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HOLLYWOOD NOTES – MAY 2003 (Part 2)

Damon re-doing Derek’s 10 and Darin’s bio, writes Nick Roddick, and the Cassavites dynasty continues with Xan’s new film with Vince Vaughn and Steve Buscemi.

A Cannes legend which I especially enjoy involved actor-turned-sales agent Mark Damon, whose on-screen career ended in the late seventies, but whose finest performance is reckoned by many to have taken place in front of a screening-room full of film buyers in Cannes some 10 years or so ago.

Having shown them a promo-reel of some upcoming item - which, by all accounts, was less than spellbinding - Damon launched into a ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’ description-cum-enactment of the rest of the movie, earning not only a standing ovation (which is always nice) but a bag full of sales (which, if you’re a sales agent, is even nicer). Shame the finished film - which, you will notice I have discreetly declined to mention - was a bit of a dud.

He’s currently planning a remake of the 1979 comedy 10, in which Bo Derek’s cornrows became almost as famous as Ursula Andress’ Dr No bikini. Blake Edwards will again direct, but no word yet on who will play Derek’s object-of-desire character, nor he who desires her (played in the original, of course, by the late Dudley Moore).

"biopic about Bobby Darin"

But the film that really caught buyers’ attention was a biopic about Bobby Darin. Darin became a pop star by continuing to croon well into the rock ‘n’ roll era, notching up a few notable screen appearances in the process, before dying of a heart attack just before Christmas 1973 at the age of 37. The film will reportedly star (and may also be directed by) Kevin Spacey, an actor who - as L.A. Confidential demonstrated - can do the fifties look better than anyone else in Hollywood.

He can also, according to those who attended Damon’s AFM party in Los Angeles, do a pretty mean Darin impersonation: archive film of the man himself singing apparently segued straight into Spacey, as he picked up the same song with the same finger-clicking style.

Production is due to start mid-June. And let's hope this project doesn’t go the way of all those other music biopics - Janis Joplin, Otis Redding - whose making has been optimistically forecast in the past.

FOR THOSE OF you who thought the Fondas were the last remaining Hollywood dynasty, here comes another: the Cassavetes. John Cassavetes, who made the most widely seen American 'independent' movie of the fifties with Shadows and whose career as an actor in films like The Dirty Dozen provided him, on the Orson Welles model, with the funding to make such later films as Husbands, died in 1989. Wife Gena Rowlands, Oscar-nominated for her role in her husband's film, A Woman Under the Influence, is still to be seen on the big screen from time to time: she was the star of Brian Skeet’s Weekend (featured in Preview in 1998) and has since been seen in Mira Nair’s Hysterical Blindness.

Son Nick Cassavetes is a writer/director, who made his debut with one of his father's unmade scripts, She's So Lovely and has since been responsible for last year’s Denzel Washington little-guy-strikes-back drama John Q, and for the screenplay of the previous year’s Blow. Other son Frank Cassavetes puts in the occasional screen appearance, usually in his brother’s films. And now the daughter also rises.

Alexandra Cassavetes (also known as Xan) has already made one film. It was called Dust and is not to be confused with the Milcho Manchevski western of the same title which opened Venice a couple of years ago. Xan’s film, which she directed as well as starring in, was made in Australia. I haven’t seen it, but someone has taken the trouble to log on to the IMDB to describe it as “stunning”.

Her next film is likely to be a good deal less obscure. Due to shoot in Los Angeles this summer (and being pre-sold at Cannes this month by IAC Films), it takes a look at the LA music scene, which is becoming quite a favourite with women directors, to judge by Lisa Cholodenko’s Laurel Canyon and Allison Anders’ 1999 Sugar Town.

Entitled The Sky Is Green, Cassavetes’ film is set during the eighties and is, according to Xan, "a compassionate look at someone grappling to find his own maturity in a town that worships youth". It stars Vince Vaughn as Jeff, a record producer whose underground label becomes hugely famous and whose business partner (Michael Rapaport) does a deal with a major label. Jeff discovers that corporate targets and artistic freedom are no more compatible in the music business than they are in Hollywood, and the whole thing goes predictably sour. Steve Buscemi plays Jeff's best friend, Chris, and Saffron Burrows and Mia Kershner are the two very different women in his life.

No doubt about it: Xan seems to have inherited her father's ability to attract top actors. But one thing she hasn't inherited from him is her taste in music. Where John was a jazz fan to the point of fanaticism, the music in The Sky Is Green - as befits the period in which it is set - is hip-hop, with rapper Mos Def playing Jeff's top artist, Carlo, who suffers a nervous breakdown under the new management. And R&B legends Earth Wind and Fire will feature on the soundtrack album, along with DOC, Digital Underground, Kool G Rap and, of course, Mos Def. Shooting, originally scheduled for April, now begins in July.

HAVING DEVELOPED A taste for leaving the earth's atmosphere in Space Cowboys, Clint Eastwood is suiting up again to direct a biopic about Neil Armstrong.

Based on the as-yet unpublished official biography by James Hansen entitled (appropriately enough) First Man, the film will (as usual) be produced by Eastwood's Malpaso Productions for Warner Bros. 

Published May 29, 2003

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Kevin Spacey

HOLLYWOOD NOTES MAY - PART 1


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