Cinema Station

The Casting Director: Hombre

February 23, 2012
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There is nothing more fun that recasting some of our favorite pictures (or even perhaps ones that were never made). To begin a series called The Casting Director, we will play god for imaginary productions and take a stab at recasting some classic performances (just for fun).

First up, one of the greatest Westerns of all time:

Hombre

Jeremy Renner as John Russell

Perhaps one of Paul Newman’s best performances, the role of John Russell (or Hombre, half-breed/quiet anti-hero) is hard to fill but I feel there is no current actor better suited to play it than Jeremy Renner. Having proved himself in The Hurt Locker and The Town (not to mention overlooked performances before his breakout in the underrated Twelve and Holding and the horrible 28 Weeks Laterworth it only for Renner), he has the necessary grit to play John Russell. I do not think that he would over-act for an instant and would understand the brilliance of Newman’s work while bringing plenty of his own to the role.

Tommy Lee Jones as Cicero Grimes

Richard Boone cannot be replaced. His role in Hombre and The Tall T are possibly the greatest Western villain roles in all cinema. When considering how to cast Cicero Grimes, I thought of some qualities Boone brought to the role. After all, as my Cinema Station partner Gus Edwards pointed out, Grimes is not a monster. Like all good Western antagonists, he has a code; he lives by his own values and is a formidable if nasty and relentless bad guy. He is charming, funny, and mean as hell. Now, although this actor has not made a career of playing villains, I believe Tommy Lee Jones would be good for the role. First, he understands the Western genre (his own directorial effort Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a great film). Also, from his performance in that and The Fugitive, I recognize a rough, mean sense of humor in Jones. In the latter film, he is charming, tough, relentless and yet reasonable. It would be fun to play off these elements and I believe Jones would be more than capable to play Grimes.

Virginia Madsen as Jessie

It was much harder to recast Jessie (originally played by Diane Cilento) than any other character. I find it ironic that (from my viewpoint) most of the female actors today are much softer than the ones working in old Hollywood. We have no Lauren Bacalls, no Marlene Dietrichs, no Joan Crawfords. Well, there is at least one great actress we have: Virginia Madsen. I really believe that Virginia, as a woman, has the grit to fit perfectly in the Western genre. Modern directors have struggled with this type of casting (Annette Benning in Open Range and Renee Zellweger in Appaloosa) but Virginia is an overlooked talent. Starting with Dennis Hopper’s The Hot Spot (which she steals) to Sideways (which she was the only redeeming part of), Madsen remains the toughest, sexiest American woman in movies today and she is the only one I can see playing Jessie.

Edward James Olmos as Henry Mendez

Martin Balsam was a fantastic character actor. He belongs to a tradition of Hollywood craftsmen who transitioned from one role to the next, regardless of race/age, and turned in good work. I would like to cast Edward James Olmos as Henry Mendez, the stagecoach driver. Olmos is an actor who commands the screen with silent integrity. At an older age, I believe he could capture Mendez’s sympathetic nature as well as his feebleness in the conflict. For this role, I would want to push (more than the original film) the idea that Mendez is tired, maybe once had fire to fight but has seen everything and just wants to get by. He admires John Russell’s pride but advises him to be a “white man for a while”. Olmos has not had a very good role in movies for a long time (though his performance in The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez is yet another underrated entry in the genre) and I would like to see him get some characters he can really sink his teeth into.

Christopher Plummer as Dr. Alex Favor

I believe Christopher Plummer would make a good replacement for Fredric March. Now, I base this decision most on studying his work in The Insider. He is noble, charismatic, yet treacherous and selfish. Plummer would make a damn fine Dr. Alex Favor, too good to have half-breed John Russell sit in the wagon while all the time stealing money from the reservations. I could see the whole bunch having pity for this old, handsome character while “hombre” sees the rotten son of a bitch he really is. With a long career behind him, still turning in good acting, Plummer is my choice.

The Director: Ben Affleck

Finally, I would like to recast the director. Martin Ritt did a terrific job with Hombre. There are few directors who can make a good Western. Though he has not experimented in the genre yet, I give the job to Ben Affleck. With Gone Baby Gone and The Town under his belt and more to come, Affleck is probably the most promising director in Hollywood today. He will undoubtedly have a couple misses at some point but I sense that he has the smarts and persistence to keep telling good stories. It would be interesting to see him take on a Western and with the strength of the male characters in his previous films, I think he’s cut out for it. Also, he has worked with Jeremy Renner and they might make a great team for a redo of Hombre.

Anyway, it’s all dreaming. But heck, what else is there.

-TM

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A Flash of Green: An American Masterpiece

February 13, 2012
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I first read about A Flash of Green in Barry Gifford’s fun read The Devil Thumbs a Ride, a tribute to all the pulp/noir films he loves. He doesn’t say much about the film, mostly focused on Richard Jordan’s performance in that and two other movies (The Friends of Eddie Coyle and The Mean Season). However, something about A Flash of Green caught my immediate interest. Only available on VHS, I decided not to order it and over time forgot the title. Then, browsing the back of the instant streaming Netflix catalog, I found it. Only available to watch online (still not on DVD) I was ecstatic to watch this movie I knew little of. And now after seeing it four or five times I can say that it is one of my favorites.

The movie, based on a book by crime writer John D. Macdonald (Cape Fear), tells the story of a community’s battle in a Florida town over a piece of land and the reporter (played by Ed Harris) stuck in between the two warring sides. He sympathizes with the nature conservationalists, in love with the wife of his deceased best friend who organizes and pioneers a campaign to stop the construction. On the other hand, he secretly works for his childhood friend (Richard Jordan), a county commissioner with plans to be governor. Jordan is charming and sly, dealing with the companies to build developments on the land and using Harris to dig up dirt on the opposition.

This is not a thriller in conventional terms. The pace is slow and beautifully so. Director Victor Nunez creates a world, a tone with picture and music, and characters that feel more true than any I’ve ever encountered. When showing the movie to my father, he remarked that all of the houses in the film looked like real homes, not Hollywood sets, and the people too who do not reek of the glitz and glamour.

Ed Harris, who I believe to be one of our greatest actors, delivers a complex mysterious performance. It is quite impressive how subtle yet effective he is in the role and the rest of the cast follows him.

I feel that Nunez made an American masterpiece with A Flash of Green. This forgotten under-appreciated film is a treasure of great storytelling and a film that will always remain close to me.

-TM


The Big Something: A Comedy-Murder-Mystery

February 7, 2012
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When Gus and I are not blogging about movies, we are making our own movies. We started a company a couple years back called Running Wild Films and have since made close to twenty short films and two feature length movies. The first one is now available to download, a comedy-murder-mystery called The Big Something.

The film has received great press in Arizona, where we make local cinema, and continues to find an audience online.

“The Big Something is a laugh-out-loud, screwball comedy with a Raising Arizona-like charm.” -Chris Coffel, Trashwire

“The BIG Something” keeps the plot simple and the film entertaining. The characters are memorable and the locations are a hoot. Music is massive and all within the public domain. Zero budget, 10 day, wing and a prayer feature filmmaking has come to Arizona, as “The BIG Something” offers a tantalizing taste of the swelling wave of local, indie feature filmmaking.” Bill Pierce, Examiner

I was inspired to make the movie after years of working in record stores. Somehow a story of murder and comedy made its way into that world, as did many of the eccentric employees and customers from that environment. The work of Howard Hawks and Buster Keaton was also very influential on the tone and style of the film.

The soundtrack of the film has also been praised: a collection of public domain blues, tracks from the likes of Leadbelly, Fats Waller, and Sonny Terry. It is also available for download.

We are committed to online distribution and exhibition. The movie and the soundtrack are available on our website at this link: http://www.runningwildfilms.com/store/. You can pay whatever you want to download either. You decide the price.

I hope you enjoy the film we have made and keep coming back for more cinema from Running Wild and more cinema-obsession from Cinema Station.

-TM


Growing up with Great Directors

February 7, 2012
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Driving through the country with my grandfather the other day, I got to thinking about the ways that movies have changed over the course of my life. I’m only twenty-six but it is remarkable to look back at the way the work of great directors has grown up with me.

Take for instance, Alfred Hitchcock. Perhaps the first director I ever paid close attention to. As a child, I was amazed by North by Northwest. What a wonderful adventure that film is, a boy’s movie. It is sensational, cinema at its most fun.

As a teenager, I paid more attention to Rear Window. I began to see the master behind the camera and this brilliant experiment enthralled me. Years later, breaching adulthood, I found affection and respect for the film that had alluded me: Vertigo. Now this movie was at the forefront of my mind. The mood, the themes suddenly made sense. The darkness was so alluring and had surpassed the lighter Hitchcock films.

It was less than a year ago that I revisited Notorious. This movie had also escaped my affection upon first (and second viewing). But at twenty-five years of age, I was ready for it. I never knew Hitchcock could be so romantic. Cary Grant’s character was the kind of hero I could now relate to: bitter, mean, daring, brave. Notorious now means Hitchcock to me.

I have grown up with other directors too. John Ford struck me first at the age of thirteen with How Green was my Valley. Still to this day, I attest to the wonder of this film and it’s place (regardless of its reputation for stealing the oscar from Citizen Kane) as one of the great masterpieces of cinema. But the Ford film that lingers with me at present is My Darling Clementine. When I first saw it, I shrugged at the simplicity that I now admire so much. There is so much in so little and I’m old enough to see it.

Woody Allen: from Love and Death to Crimes and Misdemeanors to The Purple Rose of Cairo.

Martin Scorsese: from Goodfellas to Raging Bull to After Hours

Stanley Kubrick: 2001 to Paths of Glory to Barry Lyndon

Even the child filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who once owned most of my affection, has retained at least one ultimate place in my cinema-loving heart: the one adventure to outlast all his others, Jaws.

It is fun to look back on the way that these film change with me over the years, one fading away and another coming into its place. This is one reason why I could never make a definitive list of favorite films. Once I had written it, the list already be different.

To the ever-evolving love of cinema,

-TM