A Surrealistic Thriller From Spain Gets an American Makeover
One of the most anticipated new movie releases for this December is Vanilla Sky starring Tom Cruise (as David Aames) and his current flame, Penelope Cruz. What most people don't know is that the film is a remake of Abre Los Ojos/Open Your Eyes (1997), a psychological thriller by Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar which also featured Penelope Cruz in the central female role. In the original version, a handsome Lothario named Cesar attends a party where he meets his best friend's latest crush, Sofia. Immediately smitten, Cesar succeeds in luring Sofia away from his pal and is soon involved in a passionate romance with her, the first time he has experienced true love. But in the process, he abandons his current lover and she takes an unexpected revenge. The result of this action sends the storyline spiraling into a dark, netherworld of facial surgery, masks, cryogenics, and disturbing dream states which are often indistinguishable from reality. It's hard to imagine how director Cameron Crowe will handle the labyrinth plot twists and mind games in his version, especially in light of his past work (Jerry McGuire, Almost Famous) which seems positively sunny and upbeat compared to Vanilla Sky. And how will Crowe handle the ambigious ending? The original climax of Abre Los Ojos/Open Your Eyes - a surrealistic encounter on top of a skyscaper - sent most moviegoers out of the theatres scratching their heads, questioning what they had just seen.
What we do know is that Vanilla Sky is going to be set in New York City and focus on contemporary culture in America. On the official Vanilla Sky web site (www.vanillasky.com), Tom Cruise states that the film "is a pop culture ride. It's one of the sub-themes of the movie, how pop culture affects us, and how we use it as a standard as to what we expect from our own lives."
Vanilla Sky will also be visually striking and innovative in its approach to the main character's disoriented state of mind. Crowe said, "From the very beginning, I wanted a shot where David Aames is alone in Times Square. We had to have the shot because it's from a dream that David is having where he's running tragically alone in the world. The producers did some magic to get us Times Square to ourselves, and it helped us provide the shot with an eerie, inspired feeling."
Soon, we'll all have a chance to see just how successful Crowe and Cruise have been in their latest collaboration and whether Vanilla Sky will actually improve on the original version or whether it will depart from it completely, spinning off in a new direction.
By Jeff Stafford
A HIGH SCHOOL OTHELLO?
Othello, Shakespeare's classic play about jealousy adapted from a story by Italian writer Giambattista Giraldi, is back on movie screens in the form of O this time set in a modern-day high school. The new version has gathered mostly positive reviews even considering the long and illustrious history of Othello in its many versions. The play first hit screens twice in 1907, once as an Italian film directed by and starring Mario Caserini, the other a German film from Franz Porten who also directed and starred. There were five more versions during the silent era, mostly again from Germany or Italy. A 1922 German adaptation with Emil Jannings can be found on DVD along with a bonus 1911 Danish variation called Desdemona.
The first sound version appeared in 1946 with Iago played by Sebastian Cabot (later to be Mr. French on TV's Family Affair). Running only 45 minutes this version must have been little more than a collection of highlights. Perhaps the best film of Othello resulted when lifelong Shakespearean Orson Welles finally completed his version in 1952. Shot on a tiny budget whenever time allowed over a period of three years, Welles' Othello is a triumph of imagination and artistry. Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum says this "may well be the greatest of all Shakespeare films" and certainly will fascinate people not particularly interested in Shakespeare. Like most Welles films it exists in multiple versions; the one currently available on DVD is perhaps the most complete but since it has a rerecorded score and some original dialogue recently overdubbed by
fill-in actors it's basically just another version not a full restoration.
There were some TV remakes and a couple of Russian versions before the next big
Othello film appeared when Laurence Olivier took the title role in 1965. (He had earlier played Iago on stage during the 1930s.) Olivier surrounded himself with such top-notch actors as Maggie Smith, Frank Finlay and Joyce Redman, all four of whom received Oscar nominations for their work in this film. Olivier's version actually started on the stage in London and much of the film is apparently a fairly direct translation, even using some of the same set designs. It received rave reviews when released, further cementing Olivier's reputation.
Othello has continued to attract actors since then. In 1979 Richard Dreyfuss and Raul Julia filmed it, Anthony Hopkins and Bob Hoskins did in 1981 and then Laurence Fishburne with Irene Jacob and Kenneth Branagh in 1995 . There was even a 1997 adaptation from India. It seems unlikely that these will be the last.
By Lang Thompson
THE RECKLESS MOMENT becomes THE DEEP END
In 1947 Elizabeth Sanxay Holding wrote a novel entitled The Blank Wall which was adapted for the screen in 1949 as The Reckless Moment. Directed by Max Ophuls, the suspense thriller focused on Lucia Harper (Joan Bennett), a housewife who goes to desperate lengths to protect her daughter Bea from being arrested for a murder. But did she really commit one? Lucia definitely saw the body because she disposed of it without her daughter's knowledge. And her world is thrown into further turmoil by an unexpected visit from a blackmailer (James Mason) who has some incriminating love letters to sell. The Reckless Moment was well received in its day and features what many now believe is one of Joan Bennett's best performances. It is also highly regarded by fans of Max Ophuls. Yet, the film is not available currently on video, DVD, or laserdisc.
So don't hold your breath waiting for the re-release anytime soon. However, an alternative is to go see The Deep End (2001), a new adaptation of Holding's original novel by the filmmaking team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel. While the central plot is basically the same as The Reckless Moment, the setting has been changed from a Southern California beachfront to Lake Tahoe and Bea, the suspect daughter in the original, has been transformed into Beau, a gay teenager who is running around with an untrustworthy older man. The Deep End enjoyed a flurry of early rave reviews from most of the mainstream critics but now that it is going into general release, we are seeing more mixed reactions from other viewers; some prefer the Max Ophuls 1949 version while others are finding some major plausibility problems with the behavior of Margaret Hall (Tilda Swinton), the gay teenager's mother. One thing everyone seems to agree on, however, is Tilda Swinton's tour-de-force performance as the frantic mother. Roger Ebert wrote, "She is always believable as this harassed, desperate, loving mother. She projects a kind of absorption in her task; she juggles blackmail, murder, bank loans, picking up the kids after school - it's as if the ordinary tasks keep her sane enough to deal with the dangers that surround her." Swinton has previously been seen in such offbeat indie efforts as Orlando (1992), The War Zone (1999) and Female Perversions (1996). Her most famous mainstream film to date is probably The Beach (2000) in which she played Sal, the manipulative commune member who has an affair with Leonardo DeCaprio. With a little luck, The Deep End should expose Swinton to a much wider audience.
FROM A PULP NOVEL TO A FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT FILM TO A BRAND NEW REMAKE
Depending on how you approach Original Sin it's either a new version of a classic pulp novel (Cornell Woolrich's Waltz Into Darkness) or the latest Hollywood remake of a foreign classic (Francois Truffaut's Mississippi Mermaid (1969). Either way it promises to be a smarter than usual psychological thriller with enough star power from Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie to constitute its own heat wave.
The basic story remains much the same. In the 1880s a Cuban plantation owner (Banderas) meets a mysterious American woman (Jolie) who's answering his ad for a bride placed in a Baltimore newspaper. Though Banderas wants only a good, stable wife he is unexpectedly swept up in a raging passion. Still, there are a few unsettling signs that all is not what it appears to be. Jolie doesn't quite match the original description he'd received from the States plus she has some unexplained scars on her back (caused by husband Billy Bob Thornton?) and a trunk that is always locked.
Original Sin was produced by Via Rosa, Michelle Pfeiffer's production company. Actually, Pfeiffer had originally planned to star in it before scheduling conflicts arose; she's still listed as producer. However, director-writer Michael Cristofer knew exactly who to put in the lead role: Angelina Jolie, who he had directed in her breakthrough film Gia (1998) (which won her Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards).
Getting Banderas proved to be a lucky coincidence. As the actor told Out magazine, "When I was 15 I was lucky enough to watch Mississippi Mermaid, the movie Truffaut made of the same book. It was not very good, but it produced an incredible impact on me. When I met Melanie [Griffith, his wife], I told her the story of the movie. Years later we saw it, and the movie I had in my mind was completely different! When Michael Cristofer came to me with the script, I said, 'Oh, my God, I've been searching for this my whole life.'"
Original Sin started filming in Mexico in February 2000 under the title Dancing in the Dark (apparently later changed to avoid confusion with Lars Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, 2000). The location was only a few miles from where Banderas had filmed The Mask of Zorro (1998). Pedro Armend¿z Jr. was added to the cast due to regulations requiring a Mexican actor in any films shot in Mexico, not a problem considering his notable career of a hundred plus movies.
Original Sin was originally planned for a Fall 2000 release but that was pushed back to take advantage of better dates. In fact, between the time of Original Sin's filming and release, Banderas was able to make Spy Kids which opened to generally wide acclaim.
A remake of Planet of the Apes might not seem like an especially wonderful idea. What's next? Live-action Scooby Doo? An updated Charlie's Angels? OK, those examples actually exist but you get the point. Expectations about Planet changed, though, when the stylish mood-master Tim Burton signed aboard to direct and enlisted Mark Wahlberg, not only one of the most promising young actors around but somebody with real box-office appeal. Wahlberg will be playing an astronaut on a routine space journey who unexpectedly ends up on a world where intelligent apes rule servile humans.
TIM BURTON'S PLANET OF THE APES
The story behind this new version stretches all the way back to 1993 when the film first attracted interest as a possible remake. Oliver Stone was co-producing and Arnold Schwarzenegger was tentatively set to star with Philip Noyce (Patriot Games, 1982) directing. This delicate set-up soon collapsed. Over the remaining years there were a variety of people considered for the project: For director, Stone himself, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Chris Columbus, Robert Rodriguez; For writer, Sam Hamm (Batman, 1989), Graham Yost (Speed, 1994); For stars, Ben Affleck, Ben Kingsley, Gary Oldman, Johnny Depp. These names come from reports in trade papers or reliable sources but with such constant change they may have been little more than temporary considerations.
The people who actually made the remake came together in Spring of 2000. That's when the chaos finally settled into Tim Burton directing and Mark Wahlberg starring with key roles of apes going to Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth and Michael Clarke Duncan. One unusual choice is Kris Kristofferson as a human rebel. (Oddly enough Wahlberg is doing another remake immediately after Planet, this time of Charade). Filming started last November and took place in L.A., Arizona, Australia and Hawaii. The budget is rumored to be in the $100 million range (as compared to $5 million for the original). Though the story's broad outline is known, the details have been kept tightly guarded with only comments that the film isn't so much a strict remake as a rethinking of the original series. And what about the famous ending of the original? Supposedly Burton and company have avoided that entirely and instead filmed six different endings to confuse any spies or leaks. Linda Harrison, who appeared in the first two original films in the series, says on her website that she's doing a cameo in the new one. There are also unconfirmed rumors of cameos by George Clooney and Spike Jonze (Wahlberg's co-stars in Three Kings and apparently real-life friends). We do know that you can spot Burton regulars Glenn Shadix and Lisa Marie.
You might be curious about Charlton Heston, star of the original film. Reports have been sometimes yes and sometimes no about whether he would appear in the remake, supposedly as an ape this time around. Heston apparently did a make up test and was only able to commit to one day's work. Still, he's not currently listed in the cast but who knows what surprises await?
ROLLERBALL REMAKE DELAYED TILL 2002
Due in theatres this fall (after being previously advertised as a summer release) is a hyped-up, 21st Century remake of Rollerball. The new version promises to take full advantage of special effects technology not available for the 1975 original, as well as some apparently fearless stuntmen. The $80 million film is directed by action specialist John McTiernan (Die Hard, Hunt for Red October) and oddly enough marks his second remake in a row of a film originally by Norman Jewison (after The Thomas Crown Affair). The story remains more or less the same: Chris Klein (in the James Caan role) is uncertain about his future until he hears from suddenly wealthy buddy L.L. Cool J about a new underground sport called Rollerball, a mix of roller derby, motorcycling and sheer mayhem. Klein joins Rollerball and soon becomes one of its biggest stars, only to discover that the corporate boss is much more interested in ratings than in their well-being. The remake will be packed with such familiar faces as model Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (The X-Men), Jean Reno (Mission: Impossible) and pop singer Pink. Bring your crash helmets.