Thursday, June 9, 2011

Movie News Roundup

Unchained and Biblical

      Batting leadoff today is a story, from Wednesday, that portends a very compelling possibility; imagine Leonardo DiCaprio in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. If the story unfolds as expected, we won't have to imagine it. 
      The highly promising project has Tarantino fans clamoring in uniform jubilation. And for good reason. Tarantino's last film, Inglourious Basterds, was, without hyperbole, a masterpiece. The infectious movie maven, whose love for the medium knows no bounds, has a magnificent track record: Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2, Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs are all stellar movies. Quite simply, if you're a fan of cinema, you're a fan of Tarantino.
      According to both Deadline and Variety, Leonardo DiCaprio is in early negotiations to play the villain, a sinister character with an alliterative name to boot: Calvin Candie. CC operates a seedy Mississippi club where he pits male slaves against one other in ruthless death matches. The concept alone is cinema worthy. But with Tarantino's soulful, inventive direction, expectations will surely rise to an apex. And I'm chief among the faithfully devout culprits. The visualization of death matches combined with QT's deft touch; in two words, speechless awesomeness.
      Unequivocally, I believe Leonardo DiCaprio, if on board, will own the part of Calvin Candie. With Leo's magnetic charisma and Tarantino's cunning wit, the dialogue exchanges will be mesmerizing. Given his baby face good looks and crisp, all-too cutesy public image, Leo could pull a Henry Fonda, circa Sergio Leone's western masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in the West. What does that even mean, you ask? During his heyday (much like Leo), Fonda was infinitely typecast as the handsome good guy. But the visionary, Mr. Leone, sought to upend Fonda's eternal good guy image by casting him as the villainous, reprehensible bad guy. If you've been fortunate to see Once Upon a Time in the West (it earned the 'O' title in my Great Alphabet), then you know that Frank (Fonda's character) was a despicable son of a gun. Additionally, we're all aware that Tarantino loves to pay homage to his favorite directors of the past; what better way to honor Leone than follow his casting blueprint. I didn't think it possible, but if DiCaprio signs on to play the villain, my QT respect meter will rise to unprecedented heights. 

      DiCaprio and Tarantino (they never worked together despite QT's desire to hire him for Basterds) would be a marriage of near utopian cinematic proportions. Leo is one of the biggest movie stars of the past 20 years. Tarantino is one of the most beloved directors in the history of modern cinema. Perhaps, their pairing is inevitable. Leo has blazed a career that has closely transpired amidst the backdrop of Tarantino's own directorial lifework; QT's breakthrough came in '92, Leo's came in '93. In other words, this potential pairing has to happen, and the Gods of Cinema must make it happen.
      Many film insiders are speculating about the final casting arrangements. Their collective thinking, which has some merit, concerns the fact that DiCaprio's inclusion (still uncertain) would inspire Will Smith, whom Tarantino favors, to captain the title character of Django, "a slave who is liberated and taught the tricks of the trade by a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter." If the insiders are proven correct, then, to rejoice, I'll be listening to Happy Day's theme song (via a constant loop) until my ears burst from mind-numbing redundancy. Smith + DiCaprio + Tarantino + Spaghetti Western = Unfu**enbelievable!
      Let me end with an ode to caution. So far, all of Tarantino's casting choices have been rumored; including big leaguers like Michael Fassbender, Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson, Chistoph Waltz, Idris Elba, Jamie Foxx and many, many others. It is tantalizing to envision the interplay between some of these actors, specifically, in QT's imaginative universe. Certainly, jaws will hit the floor. But at this early point in the production process, only one glimmer of truth can be mined: there's a strong likelihood that both Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson (Tarantino knows these guys better than their mom's) will sign on. Given Jackson's badass Pulp Fiction role and Waltz's incredible Inglourious Basterds performance, we can only hope.

      The other big story that requires some further insight is the news that Darren Aronofsky's getting closer to his "biblical epic," a modern retelling of Noah's Ark. Slashfilm is reporting that John Logan (The Last Samurai, Gladiator) is rewriting Aronofsky's script and New Regency is considering the bulk of the co-financing. Deadline says that Paramount, Fox and Summit are possible co-financiers. The film is projected to cost $130 million, so New Regency can't produce the film alone. 
      Noah is Aronofsky's lifelong passion project. According to Slashfilm, "[it's] the culmination of an idea that began when, in 7th grade, the director [Aronofsky] wrote an award-winning poem about Noah." The idea of making a film out of the story fermented for years. It was not until Aronofsky's splendid mythical period piece, The Fountain, that the prospect of a biblical epic became tangible. The auteur believes that the story of Noah's ark is dually purposeful: risqué material, but also profound and prescient given today's enormous environmental concerns. In Aronofsky's words:

"[Noah was the] first environmentalists...first person to plant vineyards, drink wine and get drunk. I was stunned going back and realizing how dirty some of those stories are. They're not PG in any way. They're all about sleeping with your brother's sister who gives you a child who you don't know. That kind of stuff got censored out of our religious upbringing."

      In an older quote, Aronofsky adds to the mystique of the potential film:

"It's the end of the world and it's the second most famous ship after the Titanic. So I'm not sure why any studio won't want to make it. I think it's really timely because it's about environmental apocalypse which is the biggest theme, for me, right now for what's going on on this planet. So I think it's got these big, big themes that connect with us."

      Ever since Aronofsky unceremoniously dropped out of The Wolverine, movie junkies have been pondering what project he'd choose next. It appears Noah is that next project; the key part being choose. When Aronofsky authored that quote above, he hadn't made a formidable box office hit nor acquired the kind of clout (or uniform critical acclaim) that Black Swan established; the money and the praise. Prior to Black Swan's $300 million worldwide box office gross, Aronofsky's chances for making a biblical epic were not only sparse, but dim. Without Christopher Nolan type earnings power, the studious didn't consider such a project plausible. But today, in a post Black Swan world, Aronofsky's vision suddenly seems more feasible. I'm always interested in anything Aronofsky does. So, the prospect of him delving into such a large scale, biblical story is alluring.
     But one question has to be asked: how does a director tackle a famous biblical event without offending/alienating the religious hierarchy? Binding a film to a particular religious text rather than a loose amalgam of religious themes (The Matrix) is tricky territory. A director is opening himself up to the possibility of considerable backlash, especially if the material is handled imprudently. Needless to say, Aronofsky's interpretation will be monitored closely. 
      The opposing end of this argument is that Aronofsky's movie is simply "about Noah's Ark." That's all we need to know. Respect his creative license and enjoy the show. Stories with religious overtones can be quite compelling. And if you loved The Fountain (or any of his movies for that matter), you'll love Noah (or whatever it's ultimately titled). One final question: who does Aronofsky envision as the eponymous Noah? Hugh Jackman, perhaps?
      I do want to stress one thing. No deal is done yet, but this news is a good indicator that things are progressing. Ultimately, the studios have the ultimate power for deciding the fate of this tantalizing Aronofsky passion project. I hope they sign know, front the boatloads of money.


  1. Will Smith in a western... suppressed memories resurfacing... the horror, the horror...

  2. it's interesting that the NOA mini TV series with John Voight, from a few years back, have also been rather dark, violent and difficult to watch, so this new project isn't so original in being dark and gritty.
    I hope it will be more like the only Aronofsky's film I love THE FOUNTAIN than some other ones from his opus. I imagine the battle over the lead role will be quite interesting to follow.

  3. I cannot wait to see what happens if Leo plays CC in QT's flick. This is going to be an epic film. I would not want to see Will Smith,nor Jamie Foxx, though. I don't think they'd mesh well in a Tarantino film. I'd prefer to see Djimon Honsou, myself.

    A Noah's ark flick... really? How utterly anticlimactic. If Aronofsky were to do a controversial Noah ala Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ then I might give it a very slim chance, but I will not ever pay to see it.

  4. @ mooderino

    Haha, I had a sneaking suspicion that someone was going to make that observation. But let's face it: Wild Wild West was not directed by Tarantino. And, as we know, Tarantino has an uncanny ability for inspiring the best performances from his actors. And I'm convinced, if the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air signs on, Tarantino will make sure his performance is badass. Plus, Will Smith is a fine actor. And a cool ass dude save for the Scientology rumors/connections.

  5. @ Dezmond

    Good point. I actually never watched the TV series, so I wasn't aware of the tonal connection. But that's why we have Google. I'll check it out.

    Oh, nice! You enjoyed The Fountain. Visually, that film is absolutely stunning. And the casting for Noah will be intense. Can't wait to see it all unfold, assuming of course, the movie gets fully financed.

  6. @ Melissa

    We both know how EPIC this film can be. Tarantino and Leo would be a devilishly dynamite duo. I hope it happens.

    And I think Will Smith can be indoctrinated into the QT style of filmmaking. He has proven he can adapt to different oeuvres. And his credentials are impressive (he's still one of the biggest, if not the biggest, worldwide movie star today). Plus, I think he'll benefit from the film (from a creative standpoint), which may influence his decision. And of course, QT envisioned Smith for the role. That kind of conviction from the genius is all I need to know to have extreme confidence. If Tarantino trusts Will, then so do I. But if not Will, Djimon Honsou, Idris Elba or Michael K. Williams would all be wise choices.

    Haha, I love your skepticism for the Noah's ark project. And I would agree wholeheartedly, if the film was directed by someone not named Darren Aronofsky. In Aronofsky I trust. He is a true visionary and I am extremely confident that he will bring something unique, daring and fresh to the classic biblical tale. It's not going to be some kind of color by number narrative. No way, not with Aronofsky behind the lens.

  7. Tarantino is a mastermind, no doubt about that. Both Kill Bill movies, and his most recent Inglourious Basterds are among my favorite films of all time... as well as Pulp Fiction. Hey, who doesn't love Pulp Fiction, right? Though I'm pretty excited about the eventual Tarantino/DiCaprio collaboration, I was a bit disappointed when I found out that his next project will be "Django Unchained". Not a big western fan, you know, though "Django" WON'T be your typical western, of course. I so wanted him to take on his untitled Mandarin-speaking old school kung fu project, but obviously I should wait a few more years :)

  8. Very well written and informative post, Matt! Great job!
    Tarantino and DiCaprio sounds like a winning combination. I believe "Django Unchained" will be EPIC and I really don't have any problem with them doing the gritty and full of excitement western genre.

  9. Adding Leonardo DiCaprio into the cast as the villain for Quentin Tarantino's highly-anticipated spaghetti western, DJANGO UNCHAINED, is certainly a first-class novelty. Hopefully he signs the dotted line in the contract, though.

  10. @ Nebular

    Yes! That was precisely the kind of exuberant, Tarantino-type Cupid arrow admiration I expected from you. He's brilliant.

    I'm going to pretend you never said "not a big Western fan" and move on.

    I'm 100% confident you will love Tarantino's take on spaghetti westerns, and I'm convinced (though it's pure speculation), you won't have to be a fan of spaghetti westerns to enjoy Django. Tarantino always musters a fresh, lucid and wholly original take on past works/styles. Django will be glorious.

    Hopefully, the old school kung fu project is still in the works for down the road; "a few more years" doesn't sound too bad.

  11. @ Jaccstev

    Thanks Jaccs!

    And your expectations for the movie, I'm hoping, prove to be prescient. "Winning combination" indeed!

    @ Casey

    Thanks for stopping by, joining and commenting. I appreciate the support!

    Like I said, the casting feels preordained. Leo HAS to sign the contract. But the movie will be epic, regardless of who takes on the role of Candie.

  12. All I can say is whatever comes of Django, I'm there. I have a weird relationship with Leo, in that I hated him for the better part of my life purely for Titanic, and it's not until the The Departed that I finally had to throw in the towel and admit that he's a badass fucking actor. But then again, I had the same qualms with Pitt (with a bit of a switch--I loved his early stuff and couldn't care much for his more recent movie), and he fucking owned his role in Basterds, so now he has my heart.

    Which is to say whatever Tarantino does, I have faith in. And though I know some are skeptic, I'm kinda hoping Will Smith gets on board. He's had a bit of a squeaky clean PC career, and while I know that's how he likes it, it'd be really nice to see him bust out of his shell a little.

  13. I agree. I trust Tarantino wholeheartedly. Whatever the ultimate casting picture looks like, I'm certain QT will deliver a vigorously entertaining movie.

    As a teen, I was not a DiCaprio fan. But as my appreciation for film grew, my respect for DiCaprio did as well. He always brings a compelling intensity that is hard to ignore. The Departed really blew my mind, and his performance certainly aided my take-away impression of the movie.

    Like you, and it appears we are members of the minority, I would actually like to see Will Smith get the part. He has charisma, and that cannot be denied. With Tarantino's midas touch, Smith can elevate his performance.