Tag Archives: Robert De Niro

Bradley Cooper’s Limitless Good Fortune

In the new thriller “Limitless,” Bradley Cooper takes a much stronger, and much darker, role than anything he’s done since he rose to stardom in the comedy “The Hangover.” Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a down-on-his-luck loser whose life changes when he tries a new, illegal, intelligence-enhancing drug, NZT-48. For a while Eddie’s life is success, power and money — and all of this, of course, comes with risks and a price. Talking with Cooper by phone, I asked what drew him to the film. Cooper didn’t mince words: “It was basically wanting to work, number one, primarily. Number two, as I read the script, it was just incredible. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I would do anything to try to get this movie, for many reasons.’ It’s a very compelling, original idea. It’s so well-written by Leslie Dixon, and it’s a great character. It was pretty much a no-brainer.”

Cooper also supplies the film with a knowing, sharp narrative voice — and that voice was, for Cooper, just as important as director Neil Burger’s trippy, mind-bending photography. “The voice-over was in the original script, which is based on (a) book, which basically is written in the first-person as Eddie’s diary. Neil spoke to me that first meeting about his idea of telling visually what Eddie is experiencing through this thing called a ‘fractal zoom’ he created. That’s all his stuff. I just try to make it real for myself. ”

Also in the cast of “Limitless” is Robert De Niro, who plays hard-nosed financier Carl van Loon. According to Cooper, it took some rewriting to get De Niro onboard, but it was worth it. “We all really wanted to get him,” he said. “I was attached to the movie. We heard that he was interested, possibly, but wasn’t sure. Leslie Dixon wrote some more dialogue to show him where we were heading with it, Neil talked to him, and I went to his hotel room and pitched him the idea of combining two characters. It was a full-on assault, basically.”

And the pace of shooting “Limitless” was just as intense, with the slender budget meaning there wasn’t even time to rehearse. Cooper wasn’t fazed: “This movie was shot at such a high rate, based on the budget and many other logistical things, that there was no time for anything other than ‘Let’s just do it,’ which I think is wonderful. You’re acting without a net, (and) I enjoyed that, and not being able to shoot in sequence at all. It was like I had to be on the drug to understand where I was at all times of the movie.”

Before his character stumbles across NZT-48, Eddie lacks Cooper’s rugged good looks and is saddled with pasty skin, bad hair and stubble. I asked Cooper if seeing how he looked as pre-pill Eddie pricked his vanity. He laughed: “Oh my God, no, not at all. In fact, there was less makeup applied for old Eddie. I was basically able to show up to work and go right in front of the camera.”

From my article at The Rundown

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Edward Norton: Stone-Cold Criminal

Talking in late September at Austin’s Fantastic Fest about his new crime drama “Stone,” where he plays a convict trying to get through — and get through to — Robert De Niro’s hardened parole officer standing between him and freedom, Edward Norton was relaxed and agreeably shaggy in a leather coat. You could feel Austin’s relaxed vibe working on the actor in a way that the celeb-starved howling hordes of Toronto or Tribeca don’t. “This year in Toronto, I felt like the paparazzi were a little aggressive,” he said. “Like, you go to so many (festivals) where the madness has overtaken the idea of people in a community rallying around films and discussion and all of that … and Austin is still pretty down in its boots, literally. When you bump into people on the street, I don’t know — I love for people to love a movie, I love for people to be excited when you’re there, but it’s so much nicer when people still just want to talk, where somehow you can just rap about films instead of having people freak out.”

I had to note that “Stone” wasn’t exactly the first time Norton’s played a character outside the law or in jail, from “Primal Fear” to glossy entertainments like ‘The Italian Job” and “The Score.” He didn’t think it was a factor that spoke to his tastes, but, rather, the wants of the film industry: “I can’t ascribe it to anything more than coincidence except for the fact that maybe prison is an intense environment. It’s a dramatic environment. Maybe it’s not me who’s pulled toward it but writers. It’s like Elmore Leonard. I think writers get drawn toward prison, because there’s something very allegorical about it, and we talked about it when we talked about this movie. But in this movie there’s different types of imprisonment. It’s about spiritual imprisonment, and I think maybe prison lends itself to thematic things.”

It’s also a hothouse environment, according to Norton — shooting in a real Michigan prison opposite Robert De Niro. “I liked the containment of this a lot,” he said. “I liked the confinement of this film, I liked the idea that we were going to make something dramatic out of what are, in essence, a series of conversations.” Conversations with, it should be noted, Robert De Niro. Is it, I asked, fun to sit down and go head-to-head with one of America’s greatest actors? “Very fun,” he said. “The essence of what acting challenges you to do, and actually one of the things I’ve always admired enormously about (De Niro) as an actor is how much he does off of words, off of the lines. And I’ve always said to people that I think he’s one of the greatest listening actors of all time. I think if you watch this film, it’s him at his best. So much is transpiring in the way he simply takes in this other guy, and there are shifts even in that.”

From my full article at The Rundown

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Stone and the Art of the Sell

“Stone” doesn’t unfold like a traditional crime drama as Edward Norton and Robert De Niro face off — which is why it’s a little jarring to compare the rock-‘em-sock-‘em trailer with the film. It’s a dislocation Norton sums up as politely as possible. “I concur with your observation that the marketing materials maybe make it look a little more plot-driven, noir-ish than it is. I’m hopeful that, giving credit to our partners in this, they’ve noted — and I don’t disagree — that in some ways you need the voices of writers and critics and things to start to flesh out what you’re communicating about it, and I do think they intend to use what we’re getting back off this film to let that sell of it bloom into a little more, so that they can let people know that it’s also a little more serious.”

Playing devil’s advocate, I offered that you can’t really do marketing for “Stone” cut from its quieter moments, a trailer of Terrence Malick-styled shots of wheat fields with the radio playing a pastor reading scripture. Norton laughed: “No. Or you could, but no one would go. It’s really interesting, isn’t it? I always try to be accommodating or remember that we are people who say — you, me and everybody who thinks they love films, who does love films — we say things, we say we want complexity, and we say that we want the unexpected and stuff like that, but there’s something in us as well that responds to certain things in very visceral ways. There’s something in us that, we want the unexpected, yet that means that we have expectations.”

Norton related a conversation he had with director David Fincher right after “Fight Club’s release, when initial critical and audience consensus was torn. “I said, ‘Are you getting this thing where you’re getting some people saying, ‘I think it’s brilliant, I think it’s complex, but I don’t know if people are going to be able to handle this, this and that about it’?’ And Fincher goes, ‘Yeah, it’s a very particular phenomenon: It’s called ‘I loved it, but I’m the smartest person in my peer group.’ Phenomenal. Now every time I go through any kind of thing with a film, and people say, ‘I just wonder if people are going to be able to go with it,’ in my mind I hear, ‘I loved it, but I’m the smartest person in my peer group.'”

And yet, Norton has high expectations for “Stone,” even in the face of the challenges facing a smaller, smarter and decidedly different film in today’s multiplex-driven marketplace. “I hope, all joking aside, I really, really encourage and hope that people will seek out a film like that that gives them a complex experience,” he said. “I really, genuinely think John (Curran, director) has crafted a very, very complex rumination on things that are in the nervous system of our country right now. You know what? People still come up to me all the time, and if it’s ‘Fight Club’ that’s their film that they like, or if it’s ’25th Hour’ or whatever, I really, really like it when people come up going, ‘That ending still — I’m still trying to get my mind around that.’ Because that means it’s gone in them in a way that they’re puzzling over, and I think that’s way better than getting a better review where the critic can tell you what the film’s about in one viewing and then wave it off. Good to see a movie out, right now, that you can’t wave off. I think that’s the way to do it.” “Stone” is currently playing in limited release.

From my full article at The Rundown

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Toronto Notebook: Edward Norton Rolls North to Promote His Cornrow Con Role in Stone

Wearing a black leather jacket and somehow looking both relaxed and alert, Edward Norton is taking on press duties in Toronto for his much-buzzed new drama Stone. Norton’s trying to explain that despite being here last year with the comedy Leaves of Grass and the year before opposite Colin Farrell in Pride and Glory, he doesn’t necessarily try to have a film ready for the Toronto International Film Festival every year.

But his answer says a lot about why the stars love coming to Toronto…

“It sort of depends—it has to land at the right moment. But I seem to be on a cycle where we’re always kind of ready with the film late spring and then Toronto’s the perfect place to bump it out. I’m always happy about that because I really like Toronto and I love coming up to this festival. I live in New York so it’s easy, and I’ve always had a great time here, always.”

Stone finds Norton acting opposite Robert De Niro, reuniting them nine years after they last clashed in the heist thriller The Score. But where The Score was a breezy caper, Stone is grim and gritty—a difference that excites Norton. “It’s definitely a different kind of movie-making. Let me put it this way: (The Score) was a lot of fun, and I think if 15 years ago someone had said to me, ‘You get to make a film with Robert De Niro someday,’ I would say [Stone] was very close to the kind of thing I would have dreamed of doing back then. (The script) was very rich and very, very challenging, and it is a dream come true to sit across and play out very, very complex, long scenes with someone as great as him.”

Norton was also reuniting with The Painted Veil director John Curran—which let Norton feel like he could take some acting chances, especially with the convict-inspired cornrows. “I felt it was really important with this character to have the initial view of him, the initial presentation be very, very, very, very unsettling and strange and I made a couple of choices. He [Curran] wanted to set the film in Detroit and I said, ‘If we’re going to do Detroit, I want to go where that takes us.’ I said things to him like ‘I’m seeing a lot of these [convicts] in cornrows and things.’ I think he was like, ‘What?’

“One of the big thrills to me was the first day we really started working on it, he came around the corner from the camera and his eyes were really wide and he just came over and went, ‘I just love this. I love where you’re going with this.’ And I went, ‘Ah, great…'”
From my full article at E! Online

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Everybody's Fine

Near the end of the year, Oscar-consideration movies stack up at the theaters like airplanes over a snowed-in airport. If the major studios ever come to their senses and start releasing Oscar-worthy films year-round, not only will we benefit as audiences, but we also won’t have the traditional post-Thanksgiving rush and crush of intended contenders that does more harm than good to the films tumbled out of Hollywood in a six-week span like so much industrial product. Everybody’s Fine, starring Robert De Niro, is a prime example of an Oscar-shove season film that, any other time of year, would probably be much better received as a welcome movie for grown-ups to enjoy in the theater; now, it’s so strenuously bound to the idea it might earn De Niro an Oscar, it’s only going to be seen in that harsh glaring glow.

And that’s a shame, because while Everybody’s Fine isn’t perfect — it leans a little too hard on moments that could use more finesses than brute force, and it goes for the obviously sentimental in places where it could have been smarter and subtler — it does feature the best work we’ve seen from De Niro in years, and it has more than a little — if not, in fact, occasionally too much — heart. De Niro plays Frank Goode, a retired blue-collar dad still reeling from the death of his wife eight months ago, who’s invited his four kids back home to Elmira. But one call to cancel turns into several, and Frank’s abandoned. So he decides that if his kids won’t come to him, he’ll come to them. …

— from my redblog review

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Rocchi’s Retro Rental: Ronin (1998)

As so often happens when it’s time to write this column, a couple of things have been floating around my head after another week at the movies. David Mamet’s Redbelt opened up recently, and it’s another of his recent explorations of stoic manliness (see also Spartan, or The Unit), with tough, tough guys spouting tough, tough talk. The other thing that was on my mind — or, more accurately, burned into my retina — was the lingering afterbuzz from the goofy colors and visions of Speed Racer, the big-screen re-imagining of the classic car racing kid’s show, which left me enthused and smiling. (Unlike some people, I thought Speed Racer was an great-looking, silly, well-made kid’s movie, but that’s why they call it film criticism instead of film agreement). But it also left me a little hungry for actual high-speed driving with actual cars and not Speed Racer’s impressive yet impossible pixel-crafted simulations of speed and velocity.

Fortunately, one movie offers both of those things: Ronin, a 1998 action thriller from Director John Frankenheimer. Ronin stars Robert De Niro, Jean Reno and Stellan Skarsgard as part of a rag-tag group of mercenaries, a hastily-assembled crew of ex-intelligence agents fallen on hard times, cold warriors who’ve been left out in the cold by changing policies and political orders. (The title, as the opening titles explain, is the term applied to masterless Samurai in feudal Japan, who had to scrape together whatever work they could as thieves and strong-arm artists, men of honor who had been unmade by fate.) Natasha McElhone hires De Niro, Reno, Skarsgard, Skipp Sudduth and Sean Bean to steal a case — she doesn’t tell them what’s in it, because it doesn’t matter — from heavily armed shady types who don’t want it to be stolen. As the chase for the film’s MacGuffin whips through France, the plot’s really an excuse for Frankenheimer to have plenty of car chases and action sequences, punctuated with bursts of gunfire and the occasional moment of curt, cynical world-weary male bonding. In other words, it’s great, two-fisted action moviemaking.

You may not know of Mamet’s involvement with Ronin, and that’s okay; you’re not supposed to. Mamet significantly re-wrote J.D. Zeik’s original screenplay for Ronin, but a dispute over credits resulted in Mamet asking that a pseudonym, Richard Weisz, be used as his credit. But you don’t have to be an insider to spot the stops and starts of Mamet’s distinctive style in Ronin, or the blunt, bleak comedy in it. When he’s asked how he knew a meeting was an ambush, De Niro tosses off what sounds like hard-earned wisdom: “Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt.” And as De Niro and Reno bond on the job, they get to do plenty of to-and-fro stuff that makes Ronin feel like an armed buddy comedy. After Sam gets some information out of someone, Vincent’s curious about how Sam was able to get so much out of the guy so fast: “A friend of yours?” Sam’s nonchalant: “Yeah, we went to high school together.” Vincent meets Sam’s cool with a French shrug, a raised eyebrow, and a little cynicism: “Well, everyone’s your brother ’till the rent comes due. …”

And when De Niro and Reno aren’t playing tough, they’re driving fast; the chases in Ronin are amazing. Frankenehimer (who passed away in 2002) was a big racing buff and knew how to shoot chase sequences; his first color film was Grand Prix, and he also gave us The French Connection II. And there’s no digital trickery or computer effects in Ronin, just impressively competent stunt drivers, and even a few actors willing and crazy enough to do it themselves. Actor Skipp Sudduth asked Frankenheimer if he could train and do his own stunt driving; Frankenheimer came around, but had one caveat for Sudduth: ‘I don’t wanna see any brake lights.” After Speed Racer, which pays minimal attention to little things like the laws of physics and gravity, Ronin offered me a high-octane refresher course in Newton’s laws of motion, as cars screech, skid and swerve along mountain roads and roar and rocket down cobblestone streets.

Reno and De Niro soon realize, the hard way, that they’re the only two honorable thieves in their group, which means that they’re the only ones who can try and set things right after the job goes wrong. Barring justice, they’ll settle for vengeance, or at the very least getting close to even. Mamet’s always been obsessed with character and principle; in Ronin, the symphony of harsh language Mamet’s characters normally spit between each other has a few extra deep notes in the form of gunfire and explosions. Ronin’s available on DVD in a fairly well-made 2-disc special edition, and one well worth enjoying; in a summer movie season where we’ve already see billionaire industrialists fly and cars do kung-fu, an action movie as simple and straightforward as Ronin feels like a well-deserved steak dinner to break up a four-month long dessert course.

Rocchi’s Retro Rental, SFgate.com.

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