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HOLLYWOOD NOTES: April 2002

IS IT UP?
Quentin Tarantino’s is up, Robert Altman’s is not, while Clint Eastwood’s Blood is also up, reports Nick Roddick from the Hollywood sidelines on the projects that may or may not turn up as movies at a cinema near you.

LOOKING FOR QUENTIN
AT CANNES LAST year, a favourite journalistic pastime was ‘Looking for Quentin’, since the once-prolific young director was rumoured to be in town, talking projects. Quentin Tarantino did indeed show up one night at Le Petit Majestic (not the most obvious place for keeping a low profile), in the somewhat unlikely company of structuralist academic Colin McCabe and festival director-turned-producer Lizzie Franke. But the nature of the ‘projects’ was not revealed.

Having nabbed the Palme d’Or in 1994 with Pulp Fiction, Tarantino has yet to make an ‘official’ return to the Croisette. Since then, he has directed only one feature (the underperforming Jackie Brown), executive produced From Dusk Till Dawn and its two sequels and cameoed in Dusk director Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico: Desperado 2, which is due out from Miramax some time next year.

In the interim, his name has been attached to various projects, the most intriguing of which was a remake of Modesty Blaise starring Uma Thurman. But nothing happened - until now, that is. Production is finally just about to start on Kill Bill, in which Thurman will star (shooting was apparently delayed to enable her to have her baby), alongside the usual eclectic mix of Hollywood names that Tarantino (still) seems to be able to attract to his pictures, including Daryl Hannah, Warren Beatty and Lucy Liu. He also wrote the screenplay for Kill Bill, which is described as a gritty film noir, with Thurman and Hannah playing the chief adversaries.

VOLTAGE LOSES POWER
LOOKS LIKE HOLLYWOOD’S most outspoken director may finally have said too much. For the best part of three decades, Robert Altman has pulled off the striking trick of laying into the studio system at every available opportunity, while still managing to get his films financed (even in the dog days of the eighties, he continued to work). Now, however, despite the fact that Gosford Park, his most critically and commercially successful film in years, has picked up four Best Director awards and has been nominated for six Oscars (including Best Film and Best Director), the 77-year-old director has seen the financing for his next film, Voltage, drop below the level needed to power it into production.

And it’s not because he’s too old to get insurance (Stephen Frears was recently revealed to be the mystery back-up director on whom the insurers of Gosford Park insisted before they would assume the risk). Might it be because, in these nationalistic times, he keeps saying what he thinks about George W Bush? What Altman thinks about Bush is, of course, about as complimentary as what Russell Crowe thought of the BBC after they cut the poem from the broadcast of his BAFTA acceptance speech. And, although Altman has been ridiculing Dubya since well before the last presidential election, to do so in these days of heightened patriotism seems to be another matter entirely. All of which quite probably had nothing directly to do with the financing of his new film - but equally probably didn’t help.

Voltage is a satirical comedy set in 1991 about a graduate (Joaquim Phoenix) who goes to work for an electrical engineering company which suddenly sees its profits boosted by the Gulf War. With the possibility of military action against Iraq again rearing its head, it’s not hard to see why Altman should have been drawn to the project.
Based on A Shortage of Engineers, the best-selling novel by Robert Grossbach which was published in mid-2001, Voltage will have a script by long-time Altman associate Alan Rudolph, as well as roles for Elliot Gould (a regular in the director’s classic films, from M*A*S*H to The Long Goodbye) and Liv Tyler (who starred in his last-but-one film, Cookie’s Fortune). It is also reported to boast the usual Altmanesque ensemble cast, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Steve Buscemi, Bob Balaban, Harry Belafonte, William H Macy, Taye Diggs and Tony Shalhoub.

As is normal with Altman’s films, there was no studio deal in place when the film was announced in early January (the director had already reportedly been working on it for four months). But everyone appeared confident that it would be able to start shooting in New York on May 15 - until last month’s American Film Market, that is, when it was revealed that the $21-million budget was still not quite in place. In the meantime, Altman is apparently doing what all film directors do when their movies are in limbo: making commercials. But, if past form is anything to go by, he us unlikely to do what a lot of other directors do when their film’s funding is in jeopardy: keep his head down and his mouth shut. All of which has started to make him a national hate figure on US right-wing radio stations and websites.

BLOOD FLOWS
NO SUCH PROBLEMS
seem likely to affect Clint Eastwood, whose political views are known to be somewhat different to Altman’s (even if he rarely expresses them these days). His popularity seemingly undimmed by age (he is only five years younger than Altman), the actor/director began his latest film at the end of February on the Warner Bros lot, where he has been based for the past two decades. Written by Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential), it is an action thriller called Blood Work about an FBI profiler (Eastwood) tracking a serial killer. Anjelica Huston and Jeff Daniels also star.

Published April 4, 2002

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Robert Altman


Clint Eastwood

H'wood Notes March 2002







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