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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Posted by Geoff at 7:14 PM CST
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Thursday, July 20, 2017
A week ago today, IndieWire posted email exchanges between Eric Kohn, Anne Thompson, and Kate Erbland, discussing whether Universal should abandon the new Scarface movie, now that David Ayer has become the latest in a long line of directors to leave the project. Kohn in particular wrote some inspired words about Brian De Palma's 1983 version:
Setting aside narrow production schedules and one director’s priorities, the biggest problem with “Scarface” is that the material never gelled with studio priorities in the first place. Howard Hawks’ 1932 original was a Hollywood gangster saga that generated controversy for its violence but was otherwise pretty straightforward; Brian De Palma’s 1983 reimagining, however, was a jolt to the system, a high style indictment of the drug lord fantasy that culminated in one of the most outrageous shootouts ever captured on film. “Say hello to my little friend” was an astonishing, subversive battle cry, both cartoonish and mortifying at once, and it crystalized the mania of power-hungry drug dealing better than any journalistic expose.

It was a breed unto itself, a movie that derived its power less from what it was about than how it was about it. So it was especially intriguing when Chile’s Pablo Larrain was attached to direct the remake three years ago. This endlessly innovative filmmaker, whose projects range from the allegorical horror movie “Tony Manero” to last year’s elegant period drama “Jackie,” clearly doesn’t compromise. His version, according to reports at the time, aimed to cast a Latino actor in a “mythic origin story” set in modern times, one that would expose the cycle of violence that brings the war on drugs from Mexico to America. Call it whatever you want — “Scarface” is just a placeholder — this is a powerful concept with the prospects of resonating on many levels at once. Of course, America’s relationship to Cuba continues to evolve in trepidatious ways that could make the original backdrop resonate with renewed topicality.

But it’s not the kind of material that a studio, eager for a blockbuster success, might want to take a risk on. (Thankfully, Larrain moved on to more original concepts.) De Palma and Al Pacino made their surreal, iconic look at a drug-fueled capitalist psychopath at a moment where it seemed as though they could get away with anything; short of Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino, few American directors could pull off the same feat today within the confines of the Hollywood system. Needless to say, De Palma’s movie didn’t exactly go over perfectly when it first came out, only gaining acclaim with time; it has since been co-opted by gangsta rap, novelizations, and video games. When a movie resonates this strongly in popular culture, it doesn’t beg for a remake so much as a second visit. Here’s an idea: Pop it back in theaters and audiences might flip, as “Scarface” no less immersive and unsettling than it was over 30 years ago.

Ultimately, the best home for a gangster saga might be the medium best suited for long-form, immersive storytelling — television. “Breaking Bad” did a fine job of mapping out the process through which, in Vince Gilligan’s famous terms, “Mr. Chips becomes Scarface.” So before we argue any further about whether the studio should remake “Scarface,” it might be worth considering the possibility that somebody already beat them to it.

Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, July 20, 2017 11:50 PM CDT
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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Can Steven Soderbergh be far behind? Actually, Pablo Larraín is another filmmaker quick on the fly. It was announced today that David Ayer has exited the Scarface remake, with Variety and its sister publication Deadline both stating that insiders indicate that Ayer bailed because the tight schedule was not to his liking (didn't have time to make the quality feature he was hoping to). The Hollywood Reporter's sources, meanwhile, indicate that Ayer's take on the script was "too dark." Twitter is having a great time with that one (see image above).

The Scarface remake has a screenplay now said to be by Jon Herman and the Coen brothers. Deadline's Mike Fleming Jr asks, "Why Not Go Back To Antoine Fuqua?" But we all know the question he should be asking: Why not go back to Pablo Larraín?


David Ayer in talks for Scarface remake
Coen Brothers will rewrite Scarface script
Fuqua drops out of Scarface remake; Diego Luna will play lead
Terence Winter to tackle Scarface script
The Scarface remake just got a lot less interesting
Scarface remake is Larraín's dream project
The Scarface remake just got a lot more interesting

Posted by Geoff at 7:17 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, July 12, 2017 7:26 PM CDT
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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

In the trailer (above) for Daniel Raim's new documentary, Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, there is a brief tease featuring Lillian Michelson, Hollywood researcher, recalling what it was like telling her husband, storyboard artist Harold Michelson, that she was going to Ecuador "in a drug king's airplane" to do research for Brian De Palma's Scarface. I haven't seen this documentary yet, but here are some review excerpts mentioning the Scarface anecdote:
Andrew Wright at The Stranger
Utilizing celebrity interviews and cute (but-not-overly-so) cartoony sketches, the film tells the story of the late storyboard artist/production designer/Hitchcock fave Harold Michelson and his wife Lillian, whose dissatisfaction at being stuck at home led her to become the go-to researcher for filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, and Stanley Kubrick. Tom Waits liked to hang out with them, which speaks multitudes.

Director Daniel Raim doesn’t neglect the couple’s sometimes chaotic home life, including their struggles with raising an autistic son. Still, the focus here is largely on The Movies, offering fascinating looks throughout at how Harold’s illustrations helped create the look of classics such as The Birds and The Graduate, as well as the intriguing suggestion that his experiences in the nose of a World War II bomber made him uniquely suited for the job.

The film’s real ace in the hole, however, proves to be Lillian, an endlessly quotable interview subject whose pixyish presence can’t mask the sense that she knows exactly where all of the industry bodies are buried. (A brief aside about contacting a Bolivian drug lord while researching Brian De Palma’s Scarface demands a 10-hour miniseries, at the very least.) Together, the stories of this unlikely Power Couple make for a terrific corrective of the idea of filmmaking being a singular vision. Orson Welles’s quote about the movies being the world’s biggest electric train set gains even more resonance when you consider the folks who keep the transformers humming.

Monica Castillo at The New York Times
Their behind-the-scenes influence on filmmakers was far-reaching. Mr. Michelson’s storyboards show sketched versions of memorable scenes, like the parting of the Red Sea in “The Ten Commandments” and Anne Bancroft’s raised leg overshadowing Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate.” Mrs. Michelson excitedly recalls interviewing women at Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles about traditional costumes for “Fiddler on the Roof” and questioning a drug kingpin for “Scarface.”

Scott Tobias at NPR
Though well-known and beloved by their peers, Harold and Lillian Michelson had the sorts of jobs that are often so far below the line that they're not credited at all. As a production designer and art director, Harold would eventually earn Academy Award nominations for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Terms of Endearment, but for the bulk of his career, dating back to an apprenticeship at Columbia Pictures in the late '40s, he worked the art department as a concept illustrator and storyboard artist. Despite a passion for books and a formidable intellect — she was a spelling bee champion in her youth — Lillian stayed home and raised their three children until the early '60s, when Harold was brought onto the lot at Samuel Goldwyn. He helped land her a volunteer position in the research library across the street, and a second career was born.

Only the most hardcore cinephiles have heard of the Michelsons, but even casual viewers are familiar with their work. Harold's talent for adjusting his storyboards for different camera lenses and telling stories shot-by-shot is readily apparent in sword-and-sandal epics like The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, and Spartacus, and he worked side-by-side with Alfred Hitchcock on The Birds and Marnie, two of the master's most strikingly composed films. One of the most famous shots in cinema history — Benjamin Braddock framed by Mrs. Robinson's leg in The Graduate — appeared first on Harold's sketchbook before it was immortalized on screen. He wouldn't start collecting more prominent credits until later, when he worked in production design and/or art direction for filmmakers like Mel Brooks and Danny DeVito.

For her part, Lillian toiled in the research department, where she quietly unearthed the specific period details and bric-a-brac that would lend real-world authenticity to Hollywood fictions. In Harold and Lillian, she describes the extraordinary lengths she would go to get things right, like querying old Jewish women at a deli to find out what 1890s bloomers looked like for Fiddler on the Roof or pressing ex- (and current) drug lords and DEA agents for information relevant to Scarface. When asked the impossible, like getting photos from inside CIA headquarters, she could deliver. She talks about research as a "time machine" that allows her to access other worlds, much as she did as a five-year-old orphan in Miami Beach.

Lillian's voice carries the documentary — Harold died in 2008, though he left a wealth of interview footage behind — and collaborators like DeVito (who also executive-produced), Brooks, and Francis Ford Coppola offer themselves as talking heads, along with other researchers, storyboard artists and technicians in the field. Harold's extensive illustrations of their lives together — including a marvelous tradition of homemade birthday and anniversary cards, adorned by sweet poems and artwork — give Harold and Lillian all the visual panache it needs, much like a real-life version of the side-by-side comparisons between his storyboards and a finished sequence.

Posted by Geoff at 1:07 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, May 30, 2017 1:18 AM CDT
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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Michelle Pfeiffer visited Jimmy Fallon on NBC's The Tonight Show on Thursday, May 11th. Pfeiffer described how she eventually won the role of Elvira in Scarface, after Fallon asked her if Al Pacino "was intense" during the making of the film:
Michelle Pfeiffer: Well, he was probably more intense back then, or at least, I think it was maybe the nature of the project. And he didn’t particularly want me for the part.

Jimmy Fallon: He didn’t?

MP: No.

JF: Really?

MP: Look, my last credit before that was Grease 2—can you blame him?

JF: Well, no—Scarface could’ve been a fun musical, who knows? We’ll see, it’s going to be on Broadway once and we’ll be laughing. We’ll look back on this and laugh—yes, Scarface: The Musical.

MP: Yeah…

JF: (dancing and singing) Say hello to my little friend! Say hello to my little friend.

MP: You know (pointing at Jimmy), that could happen…

JF: That’s what I’m saying. It could… Okay, so you go into the audition, and he doesn’t want you for that… he’s like, “No…”

MP: Well, it was really, it was a very long, drawn-out auditioning process, and there were a number of women auditioning, and it went over a period of about, I don’t know, it seemed like forever, but I think it was about two or three months…

JF: Wow—just auditioning…

MP: And I was terrified. And I was really young. And I knew he didn’t want me. And as it went on, the worse I got, because I just got so afraid. And by the end of it, Brian De Palma was very sweet, and he was really rooting for me, Brian, and he said, ‘I’m sorry, but you’re just bad now. [Laughter] What’s going on?’ And you know, it was true, and I was like, ‘I know, I know, I’m just so up in knots.’ And [he says] ‘It’s not gonna work out babe.’ ‘Right.’ So I went away, and then about a month later, they called and they said, ‘They wanted to screen test you,’ and I’m like [gasp, drops shoulders as in oh, ugh, no]. Because part of me was just relieved to have the torture end.

JF: Heh heh he, and move on with your life!

MP: And when they called, I just said, [eyeroll] ‘No’. So, anyway, I show up, and I kind of drag myself—and I have, you know, no feeling at all that I have any shot at getting this, so… So it kind of freed me up, you know, and so I wasn’t afraid. And I just sort of, I show up, and do this scene, the restaurant scene at the end, where I kind of freak out at the end, and…

JF: …trash the place

MP: [getting animated] I threw dishes, and everything went flying, and broke things…Cut! I was IN IT! And there was blood everywhere.

JF: What!?! [Laughter]

MP: And everyone comes running over to me, checking me out for blood, where am I cut, they’re not finding anything, there are no cuts on me… I look over and Al is bleeding.

JF: Oh, no, ohhh, my gosh! [Laughter] You cut Al Pacino?!?

MP: [Nodding] I cut Al Pacino! And I…

JF: [Mimicking Tony Montana] I cannot believe you threw this dish! Broke a dish… (I can’t do Al Pacino)… [more laughter]

MP: Oh my God, I cut Al Pacino!

JF: No way, oh my God! And that’s how you got the…

MP: [Regains composure with glimmering triumph] And that’s how I got the part.

[Applause, to which Michelle Pfeiffer takes a bow]

Posted by Geoff at 10:17 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, May 21, 2017 10:21 PM CDT
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Saturday, May 20, 2017
Deadline's Mike Fleming Jr reported yesterday that David Ayer "is in early negotiations to direct" the Scarface remake for Universal. Diego Luna is still attached to star, from a screenplay most recently rewritten by Joel and Ethan Coen.

Ayer is currently finishing up post-production work on Bright, a Will Smith vehicle for Netflix. Ayer and Smith had previously collaborated on Suicide Squad. Ayer wrote the 2001 film, Training Day, which was directed by Antoine Fuqua, who at one time had been attached to direct this remake of Scarface prior to the Coen Brothers' involvement.


Coen Brothers will rewrite Scarface script
Fuqua drops out of Scarface remake; Diego Luna will play lead
Terence Winter to tackle Scarface script
The Scarface remake just got a lot less interesting
Scarface remake is Larraín's dream project
The Scarface remake just got a lot more interesting

Posted by Geoff at 3:28 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, May 20, 2017 3:37 PM CDT
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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Michelle Pfeiffer talks with Darren Aronofsky for the cover story of the April 2017 issue of Interview. At one point, Aronofsky steers the conversation to Brian De Palma's Scarface. "How’d it happen?" Pfeiffer says. "I’m very willful, you know. I’m a survivor. It’s in my nature. I don’t look so tough, but I am. And I think I was able to hide behind the tough exterior of that character, who was just sort of tuned out and tuned off, drugged. I can tell you that I was terrified. And it was a six-month shoot I think. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and I were really the only females. It was a boys’ club. And it was also the nature of the relationship, for Tony Montana to be very dismissive of my character. So I would go to sleep some nights crying."

Mark Margolis, who played Alberto "The Shadow" in Scarface, has appeared in several of Aronofsky's films.

Posted by Geoff at 9:20 PM CDT
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Robert De Niro and Al Pacino took part in a Godfather cast reunion interview Monday morning on NBC's Today. At one point, host Matt Lauer asked them if there was a rivalry between them in those days (the 1970s and 1980s)...

De Niro: No, no, no. You know, we’ve known each other a long time. We were up for the same parts. But that’s what it is. But not a rivalry…

Pacino: We sort of grew up together.

De Niro: Yeah… Once I told him, one night, I think I remember… what was… [leans toward Pacino] what was the De Palma…

Pacino: Scarface!

De Niro: [smiling] Scarface. I said, if you don’t do it, I’m gonna do it.

Pacino: That might have motivated me.

Posted by Geoff at 2:18 AM CDT
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Saturday, March 4, 2017
Miriam Colón, who portrayed Tony Montana's mother in Brian De Palma's Scarface, died Friday. She was 80. According to Deadline's Patrick Hipes, Colón's husband "told the Associated Press that Colon died owing to complications from a pulmonary infection."

Colón was born in Puerto Rico, and moved to New York City in 1953, where "Elia Kazan accepted her into the Actors Studio after a single audition and she won a Broadway role in In the Summer House with Judith Anderson," according to a 1971 New York Times profile of Colón by Patricia Bosworth. In 1967, Colón "became a driving cultural force in New York barrios when she founded the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater and began bringing free drama into the most deprived areas of the ghetto, often to audiences that have never seen theater before," wrote Bosworth.

In the early 1980s, Al Pacino was based in New York, and thus most of the parts for Scarface were cast from auditions that had been set up at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, including, of course, Colón herself. Underneath the frame from Scarface below is an excerpt from a 2003 Fresh Air interview with Colón (hosted by Terry Gross; transcription via Puerto Rico Herald) in which she discusses her role in the film.

GROSS: You're now starring in "The Blue Diner." What does that role mean to you professionally?

Ms. COLON: It's a good role. It's a woman that is very simple, that is hardworking, that has a sense of honor and dedication. She cares for her daughter, and she's very vigilant about what that daughter is going through, what is she getting involved, you know, like all mothers. In a way this woman reminds me very much of my own mother, whom I lost about three years ago; may she rest in peace.

GROSS: What about this character reminded you of your mother?

Ms. COLON: Because my mother was this hardworking, she and I would fight sometimes. My mother maybe went to the sixth or the seventh grade, but she had a wisdom in herself, a kindness, a humanity that really determined my life. I had such admiration for her, and I was so sorry that she had to work so hard. But such dignity and pride, she was the best image I had. I wish I could be like her.

GROSS: Is it fair to say, though, lately you've been playing mothers who are more conservative and strict than their children, I mean, you know, who are from a culture that is more conservative and strict than the culture their children are growing up in?

Ms. COLON: Yeah. And I just relish--I guess that's why the people loved so much what I did in "Scarface." This was another woman--in fact, I enjoyed...

GROSS: Describe your role in that.

Ms. COLON: Oh, the mother was my mother. The mother in "Scarface" is my mother, so that's another instance in which I just swam into it. It was like a tailor-made dress that was made for me: the mother that also works very hard; that is very stern; that has standards in her house; the fact that she is poor and they may not have an automobile, that they may not have a nice house, that they may live in the outskirts of the city cannot under any circumstances be used to try to put them down or to be disrespectful to the them. And this is what she did to the character played by Pacino. The thing of honor, the stern--well, she's the only one that defied him, told him, `Get the hell out of here,' that didn't wind up with her head cut off. I love characters like that, and I think I can play them very well. And that's also great because I have such sympathy for those women.

GROSS: Do you have a favorite scene from "Scarface" that you're in?

Ms. COLON: The scene with Pacino where I'm watching him coming to introduce himself into our life again. And I know that he's pushing drugs, and I know that we may be poor, but we are not in the drug world. And I know that those suits cannot be bought from working in a factory or something like that. So I think I instinctly know. But what is worse is his insinuating himself into my kitchen, into my house, into the relationship with my daughter, which is all I have left, is very dangerous. And that's why I throw him out. And everything I said would happen happened. He destroyed her...

...GROSS: Do people recognize you a lot from that role?

Ms. COLON: Oh, yes.

GROSS: "Scarface" is such a cult film now. I mean, it has such a following.

Ms. COLON: Oh, yes. You know what? Youngsters. I've had the weirdest, the weirdest, all true, episodes in the subway platform.

GROSS: Yeah?

Ms. COLON: It's happened not twice, not four times, at least a half a dozen times. They're staring, and I say, `Oh. Oh, my God, they're coming in my direction. What are they here for? Are they going to push me off the platform or something, or are they going to take my ring or something?' And then it turns out that they come close and they say, `Mama Montana?' I say, `Si, I'm Mama Montana.' They say, `Yeah!' They have done this scene for me saying my lines and his lines. They have memorized the entire scene. But I've seen kids that I know they don't have any money, and they told me, `Oh, I own that film.'

Posted by Geoff at 9:10 PM CST
Updated: Sunday, March 5, 2017 11:21 AM CST
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Friday, February 10, 2017
Universal really is ramping up its new Scarface remake. According to Deadline's Anthony D'Alessandro, the studio announced today that it has set a release date for the film: August 10, 2018. "The studio already had RSVP’ed the date under untitled event film," D'Alessandro states. "The Coen brothers are rewriting the script, the studio said. The siblings won’t direct. Several filmmakers are up for the job, notably Hell or High Water‘s David Mackenzie and Patriots’ Day’s Peter Berg."

In recent years, the Coens (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen) have been hired to polish scripts for Steven Spielberg and Angelina Jolie, among others. Last month, it was revealed that Rogue One-star Diego Luna was now attached to play the lead, with the most recent draft of the screenplay rewritten by Terence Winter.


Fuqua drops out of Scarface remake; Diego Luna will play lead
Terence Winter to tackle Scarface script
The Scarface remake just got a lot less interesting
Scarface remake is Larraín's dream project
The Scarface remake just got a lot more interesting

Posted by Geoff at 5:47 PM CST
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