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HOLLYWOOD NOTES : OCTOBER 2002

FROM ABC TO D … FOR DYLAN
Nick Roddick’s insider’s guide to Hollywood: will Tarantula cut it for Almodóvar and Co? Naomi Watts in heavyweight 21 Grams; Karen Black leads maniacs in House of 1000 Corpses; Freddy v Jason shooting (each other?); Bob Dylan wraps Masked And Anonymous – and more.

It could have been as easy as ABC, but it wasn’t, this being the movie business. The ‘A’ was director Pedro Almodóvar, the ‘B’ actor Antonio Banderas and the ‘C’ actress Penélope Cruz, three of the biggest names in Spanish cinema (although the latter two, of course, became big names by appearing in films made, not in Spain but in Hollywood).

They’ve all worked together in the past. Cruz was in Almodóvar’s Live Flesh and All About My Mother. And Banderas made his first ever screen appearance in the director’s Labyrinth of Passions before getting his big break thanks to the international success of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, both made in the days when Almodóvar’s films were known for their shock value.

He’s mellowed a little these days, to judge by such recent efforts as Mother and this year’s Talk to Her. But the new project sounds as though it could have a modicum of shock value: it is called Tarantula, and is based on a French novel by Thierry Jonquet about a plastic surgeon who takes revenge on the man who rapes his daughter. I’ll leave it to my readers’ imagination to figure out what form the revenge takes. But it doesn’t involve the rapist’s face.

The project, which will be made in Spanish, has apparently been under discussion for a while - possible ever since the 1999 European Film Awards in Berlin, where Banderas presented the Best Film prize to Almodóvar for Mother and Cruz was nominated for The Girl of Your Dreams (she lost out to fellow Mother star Cecilia Roth). But it reportedly moved sharply back up the agenda when Almodóvar and Banderas had dinner at the Hotel du Cap during this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Given that all three of them are busy people, however, just how far up the agenda Tarantula has moved remains to be seen. A production start some time in 2004 seems most likely.

LOSS OF WEIGHT
MEANWHILE, ANOTHER DIRECTOR who made his name in Spanish-language films - Mexico’s Alejandro González Iñárritu - has had a hole shot in his first English-language movie by the shocking and completely unexpected death of Katrin Cartlidge in September.

Cartlidge, who died within 48 hours of being admitted to hospital from food poisoning (which gave way to pneumonia which then developed fatally into septicaemia), was one of a number of actors due to star in Iñárritu’s 21 Grams, whose title has nothing to do with drugs but refers, with a horrid irony, to the amount of weight the body loses at the time of death (and which might just, therefore, be the spirit or the soul).

Iñárritu, who became a must-have for Hollywood’s more outward-looking producers after his extraordinary debut with Amores perros, was finally netted by former Good Machine boss Ted Hope, who will produce the film as part of the deal between his new company, This Is That, and his one-time partners, James Schamus and David Linde, who now run Universal Focus, the (dare we say it?) boutique arm of Universal. The cast will be headed by Benicio Del Toro, Sean Penn and Australian actress Naomi Watts, who shot to stardom in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

Script is by Guillermo Arriaga, who wrote Amores perros. And Focus, after a reported bidding war for the project with Miramax and New Regency, immediately began describing it in more down-to-earth terms, saying 21 Grams was really about an ex-prisoner, a woman and the woman’s faithless lover.

Production is due to start about December 2002, so by this time next year we should all know for sure. But if the finished film has anything like the power and skill of Amores perros, it will be well worth the wait.

CORPSES REVIVED
AND NOW FOR something completely different (which used to be a lifeline phrase for column-writers until Monty Python turned it into a comic cliché). After all, how else do you justify the switch from something serious to something entirely ludicrous. Which come to think of it, is pretty much what happened here: let me explain.

Rod Zombie (just possibly not his real name) is a cult figure on MTV and the ‘new metal’ circuit - a singer/songwriter/composer, formerly lead-singer with White Zombie, solo since 1998, who doesn’t take the underlying violence of head-banging music too seriously. Long linked indirectly to the movie business, thanks to the songs he has written for, among other films. M:1-2 and End of Days, Zombie came up, a couple of years back, with a movie pitch. It must have seemed a great idea: with horror franchises mopping up at the box office and splatter being a post-modern requisite (which means you show it but pretend it’s a joke), a film from someone who had built his career on just such a premise must have been irresistible.

Nor did Universal resist it: they commissioned Zombie to write and direct House of 1000 Corpses, whose title would make it clear to moviegoers just what they were going to get, and whose maker could be relied on to produce a taste-free blast of just the kind of stuff to appeal to the age-group which turns out for opening weekends.

Problem is, Zombie did his job too well. House first showed up on Universal’s summer 2001 release schedule towards the end of 2000, by which time it had been trimmed of some of its more outrageous footage and had an ‘R’ rating. Then it disappeared. What happens, it seems, is that Universal chairperson Stacey Snider got a look at a rough cut and, while making all the right noises about creative freedom, declared even the ‘R’ version too “visceral” and “intense” for the studio’s summer (or any other season’s) programme. She offered Zombie the chance to buy the movie back, which he did (prices were not disclosed).

The film then apparently attracted the interest of MGM, which began talking to its new owner in June about a release deal, with the end of this year in mind. Zombie, who was making ends meet by hosting the MTV programme ‘Movie House’, told his then interviewee Ben Affleck about this development, and left viewers in no doubt as to what the film was going to be like. Result: MGM took fright and also decided against handling it.

But fear not: House of 1000 Corpses has finally been brought back from the dead by valiant indie Lions Gate, which will open the film early next year. The story is scarcely original: young couple on a trip; car breaks down near strange town fully of weird and dangerous people…

But if I tell you that the local maniacs are led by Karen Black in classic, over-the-top form, I’m sure, gentle reader, that you will join me in celebrating the fact that, while the unrated version will be available in the US only on video and DVD, the rest of the world can look forward to seeing it theatrically in all its glory.

The only problem is that, outside the US, not a lot of people have heard of Rod Zombie. Still, nothing that a few carefully chosen talk-show appearances shouldn’t be able to solve.

SLASH OF THE TITANS
WHILE WE’RE ON the subject of horror movies, New Line has decided to go for broke and stick its two most enduring fear franchises into a single movie. Freddy Krueger (seven previous outings on Elm Street) and Jason Vorhees (10 Friday-night innings, most recently in space) are currently battling it out on the streets of Vancouver.

Since production began on September 9, Freddy vs Jason will definitely have shot through a Friday the thirteenth, may still be rolling when Halloween comes around and will, in all probability, encounter Vancouver’s Elm Street. Freddy will be played, as always, by Robert Englund, a very nice, gentle man who enjoys macrobiotic cooking. Jason, who has always wreaked his havoc from behind a hockey mask, has been able to go through a number of performers, with Jason Ritter doing the honours this time (it was Kane Hodder who got to go into space in Jason X).

As befitting such a titanic pairing, New Line has entrusted the direction of Freddy vs. Jason to Hong Kong action and horror master Ronny Yu, who memorably updated another franchise a few years back with Bride of Chucky. And, following the impressive screen debut of Beyoncé Knowles in Austin Powers in Goldmember, fellow Destiny’s Child-member Kelly Lawson will be among the victims… er, other cast members.

THE FLYING FRENCHWOMAN
A YEAR OR so ago, François Ozon was the essence of art-house: a maker of French films with a considerable following but placed firmly in the auteur tradition. All that changed with 8 femmes, a nostalgia fest which powered to the top of the charts in its home territory and has been doing just as well in several neighbouring countries, too.

Based on a clunky old stage play by Robert Thomas which had been a commercial success in Paris in the seventies, 8 femmes is a country-house crime thriller with musical numbers. But that wasn’t what made it a hit. It topped the French charts because it brought together in one film six of France’s best-known actresses - one from the fifties (Danielle Darrieux) and five from the present day: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant and Virginie Ledoyen. Encouraged by Ozon to play larger than life, they all chewed scenery with irresistible abandon.

But for a non-French viewer, the real revelation was one of the other two - a young actress in only her ninth film: Ludivine Sagnier, who played the teenage daughter of the house. Sagnier has been in Ozon’s earlier Gouttes d’eau sur pierres brûlantes and can also currently been seen in Yvan Attal’s Ma femme est une actrice.

Sagnier’s star turn in 8 femmes evidently did not pass unnoticed in Hollywood, because she has just been signed up to play Tinkerbell in the live-action version of Peter Pan which PJ Hogan is now shooting down-under. The film, on which production chores are being shared by Universal, Columbia Pictures and Revolution Studios, with Harrods boss Mohamed Al Fayed as an executive producer, is not otherwise an all-star number. Peter is played by relative newcomer Jeremy Sumpter (who was in Bill Pullman’s eerie directorial debut, Frailty), with the role of Wendy taken by British unknown Rachel Hurd-Wood. Jason Isaacs (the bad guy in The Patriot) is Captain Hook, with Lyn Redgrave, Olivia Williams and Richard Briers rounding out the cast.

Hopefully, the presence of Sagnier and the above should be enough to make a difference in the currently rather crowded JM Barrie marketplace, what with Disney’s latest animated version, Return to Neverland, and the film that Monster’s Ball director Mark Forster recently wrapped in London with Johnny Depp. That one’s simply called Never Land and is more about the writer than the classic children’s book.

But it looks like another of those instances where, whenever anyone has a good idea for a film subject, someone else seems to have it at the same time.

DYLAN’S WAR
LET’S FACE IT: if you work as a journalist in the movie business, you get to meet movie stars. That’s not necessarily why you do it, but that’s what happens. Stars in other domains, however, remain just as mysteriously stellar as they do to the ordinary fan, and this is especially true of rock stars. Which maybe why these pages have shown an excessive interest any time a rock star has become attached to a movie project: Michael Stipe as a producer, Jon Bon Jovi as an actor, Otis Redding or Janis Joplin as the possible subject of a biopic.

Not wishing to seem too predictable, therefore, I have not so far mentioned a major new movie starring Bob Dylan. Also he’s less photogenic than Bon Jovi and less, well, dead than Redding or Joplin. But, from being a film that featured the Bobster in a leading role, Masked and Anonymous has gradually turned into a must-talk-about project described by one fellow scribe as “Dylan’s version of Being John Malkovich”.

The film, on which production wrapped in Los Angeles in July, is about a singer in a fictional, war-torn country who is sprung from jail by his manager to give a concert that will reunite the country. Not, in other words, your average rock ‘n’ roll movie - and a far cry from Dylan’s last (let’s be honest) disastrous appearance in Hearts of Fire.

Director is first-timer Larry Charles, who honed his directing skills on TV with Seinfeld and other sitcoms. And the line-up of other stars which will play featured or cameo roles is, quite literally, awesome: Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson, Penélope Cruz, John Goodman, Mickey Rourke, Angela Bassett, Ed Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Bruce Dern, Val Kilmer, Cheech Marin, Chris Penn, Christian Slater and Mulholland Drive’s Laura Ellen Harring. And there will, promise producers Guy East and Nigel Sinclair, be 40 minutes of music, with some songs specially written for the film.

Not content with all of the above, the workaholic former folk-singer has also signed on to write to play over the end titles of director Ron Maxwell’s latest historical epic, Gods and Generals, about the first two years of the Civil War.

And they used to call Dylan reclusive…

Published October 17, 2002

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Naomi Watts


Pedro Almodovar


Antonio Banderas


Penelope Cruz







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