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HOLLYWOOD NOTES - FEBRUARY 99

GETTING HISTORICAL
There are movies in the making about two major historical figures – General Custer (with Brad Pitt?) and Simon Bolivar – while Bernardo Bertolucci’s next movie which will be based on the life of the painter Gesualdo da Venosa, reports NICK RODDICK.

OLIVER’S ARMY
With production finally underway on his football pic, On Any Given Sunday, Oliver Stone has committed to another film that has been bubbling under for a good couple of years: Marching to Valhalla, New Line’s movie about General George Armstrong Custer, adapted from his own biography by Michael Blake.

The film was originally going to star Brad Pitt , in a portrayal of Custer a lot more multi-faceted than the rabid Indian fighter he has - since the 60s - tended to become in the public imagination.

Custer was only 37 (Pitt’s current age, although it is no longer clear whether he is still part of the deal) when he died at the Battle of Little Big Horn, and had had a meteoric rise through the officer grades of the US Army, becoming its youngest ever General at the age of 21. He was also a hero of Gettysburg.

Blake, who wrote both the book and the screenplay of Dances With Wolves, is now working on a script rewrite with Stone, and the end result is likely to steer a middle course between the comic-opera villainy of Little Big Man and the gung-ho heroics of Erroll Flynn’s portrayal of Custer in Raoul Walsh’s 1941 classic, They Died With Their Boots On.

SIMON’S SAGA
Father-of-the-nation biopics are a decidedly dodgy undertaking. Sometimes - like Gandhi - they are outstandingly successful. Other times, they get bogged down with too much detail or too deferential an attitude.

But that hasn’t stopped Venezuelan producer Edgar Meinhardt-Iturbe who, for over a decade, has been trying to set up a $100-million cinematic life story of Simon Bolivar (1783-1830), the man who freed Venezuela and Ecuador from Spanish domination and got some considerable way along the road towards uniting the whole of South America.

Bolivar - who once claimed, "There are only three really great figures in world history: Jesus, Don Quixote and me" - provides the perfect subject matter for a turn-of-the-millennium movie, reckons Meinhardt-Iturbe, who has already commissioned a script from David Butler and Michael Cooper (based on a biography by José Luiz Salcedo), and has hired veteran British film-maker Alan Bridges to direct.

Although the lead role has yet to be cast, Meinhardt-Iturbe is certainly not looking for an unknown: Johnny Depp (pic), Keanu Reeves, Alec Baldwin, Andy Garcia and Robert Downey Jr are the names he drops, although it is unclear whether he has formally approached any of them.

The Bolivar project was supposed to roll at the beginning of last year, with a US release pencilled in for Thanksgiving 1999. That, of course, didn’t happen. If and when it will remains a matter for speculation.

DUTCH COURAGE
Ever wonder what happens to the directors of Best Foreign-Language Films? Well, usually they get to do an English-language pic not too long after getting the gong. Think Lasse Hallstrom, Bille August, Giuseppe Tornatore...

But both the recent Dutch Oscar-winners - Marleen Gorris, who won in 1996 for Antonia’s Line, and Mike van Diem, who won last year for Character - already had some experience of making English-language pix by the time they got their hands on the statuette. Gorris had made a rather unmemorable film called The Last Island at the turn of the decade, while van Diem had spent a lot of time in the US, directing (among other things) episodes of TV series LA Law.

Nonetheless, both went true to form and followed up their Foreign-Language Oscar with a return to non-foreign films. Gorris directed the very well received version of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, starring Vanessa Redgrave (pic), Rupert Graves and Natascha McElhone. And van Diem recently signed to direct no less a star than Robert Redford in The Spy Game, the story of a veteran CIA agent who has to go back to work to save the life of a protégé. Rewrites are currently taking place and no start-date has been set.

DEAD AGAIN
If there is a quintessential Jean-Claude Van Damme role, it has to be Universal Soldier, in which he plays a dead Vietnam vet who is put back together by wicked boffins and turned into an unstoppable cyborg. You may think that wouldn’t make for much of a story: by definition, nothing much is going to get in the way of the unstoppable.

But the film - the first big movie to be directed in the US by Independence Day and Godzilla maven Roland Emmerich - derived its dramatic tension from the fact that Dolph Lundgren had also been resurrected by the same boffins and turned into another unstoppable cyborg. The two ended up on different sides of the good/evil divide. If memory serves, Jean-Claude was on the good side, but I might have got that wrong. Anyway, one eventually stopped the other.

A sequel has long been mooted. And, with Van Damme on something of an upswing after the better-than-usual performance of his last outing, Knock Off (directed by Hong Kong action master Tsui Hark), Universal Soldier II (provisional title) got under way for Sony in Texas in November. The film - which marks the directorial debut of veteran second-unit director and stunt co-ordinator Mic Rodgers - doesn’t have a role for Lundgren, however.

Emmerich, meanwhile, looks like following up the lizard flick with Patriot, an American War of Independence story written by Robert Rodat, who did the script for Saving Private Ryan.

GINGER HARRIS
I had the opportunity to see about five minutes of Brian Skeet’s movie, The Weekend, on the editing machine. A minute or so of that included Jared Harris, but that brief footage were enough to indicate the extraordinary extent to which Harris is beginning to resemble his father, Richard.

All of which makes it especially fitting that Harris Jr has been chosen to play Sebastian Dangerfield, the hard-drinking Yank in Dublin who is the central character of JP Donleavy’s cult novel, The Ginger Man, in an upcoming screen version. After all, there were many who felt that Harris Sr’s carousing years - of which I was, albeit extremely marginally, an observer - paralleled, or maybe were directly inspired by Dangerfield’s antics.

The film, which is being produced by Guy Collins of London-based indie IAC Films, is due to start shooting in Dublin or (for reasons that will be obvious to anyone familiar with tax law) the Isle of Man early this year. At time of writing, no director had been set.

PLUS...
Bernardo Bertolucci’s next movie will be based on the life of the painter Gesualdo da Venosa (1516-1612), inspiration for a number of 20th-century artists including Igor Stravinski, who dedicated a late composition to him. The film, entitled Heaven and Hell, is currently being scripted by the director’s regular collaborator, Mark Peploe, using an Italian biography of Gesualdo by Giovanni Iudica as the starting point. As for starting dates, those are anyone’s guess...

Multi-European Film Award nominee Elodie Bouchez will take her first English-language role in Geraldine Creed’s film Kaos, alongside Rutger Hauer, Jason Berry and Peter Lohmeyer.

Jeff Bridges, Nick Nolte and Sharon Stone (pic) head the cast of Simpatico, a movie version of the Sam Shepard play about two friends whose relationship is soured by a horse-racing scam. The movie is fully financed by Le Studio Canal +, and is being helmed by British theatre director Matthew Warchus, who also adapted Shepard’s play for the screen. Shawn Hatosy and Kimberly Williams are also in the cast...

The next film from top French director Patrice Chéreau, whose two most recent movies have been La reine Margot and Ceux qui m’aiment prendront le train, will be shot in English in London later this year. It will be based on Intimacy, the novel by screenwriter and director Hanif Kureishi...

Danny DeVito looks like playing the title role in DreamWorks’ remake of The Man Who Came to Dinner, which was originally directed by William Keighley for Warner Bros in 1941, starring Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan and Monte Woolley. The latter was reprising his Broadway role as a pompous critic who returns to his Midwestern home-town to accept an award, goes to dinner with a wealthy local resident, is taken ill and has to stay on, wreaking havoc in the household. For the new version, the unwanted guest - which will, of course, be the DeVito role - becomes a talkshow host...

Taiwanese director Ang Lee will reportedly follow a trio of literary adaptations - the Oscar-winning Sense and Sensibility; Cannes entry The Ice Storm; and the recently completed Civil War story, Ride With the Devil - with a Chinese-language action movie, Crouching Tiger, Leaping Dragon, which will, if Lee gets his way, star Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh...

And the prolific Tony Scott - whose most recent movie is, Enemy of the State, is planning to direct Josiah’s Canon for Fox. The film is an action thriller about a Holocaust survivor who plans a daring heist on the Swiss bank in which riches were deposited by German Jews who died in the concentration camps. Either that or a movie version of John Le Carré’s The Tailor of Panama. Or an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Kill Shot...

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Enemy of the State


Jean-Claude Van Damme in Legionnaire


Alec Baldwin

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