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Tuesday, April 17, 2018
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/paternobarry.jpgA couple of weeks ago, Business Insider's Jason Guerrasio spoke with Barry Levinson about Paterno, which he took on after Brian De Palma left the project (at that time, it was still called Happy Valley)...
Jason Guerrasio: Brian De Palma originally was doing this with Pacino. Did you take anything from their collaboration or did you start fresh?

Barry Levinson: Al told me he had been dying to do Paterno but that all didn't work out. And I said let me look at the stuff and basically we came back with a different take on it.

Guerrasio: I talked to De Palma back in 2013 and he said he was imagining Paterno as a King Lear character, it feels that wasn't the way you went.

Levinson: I mean you take a character like that I guess you could make that. But [De Palma] had a different take on it, completely. What we did takes place over a two-week period. You go from the highest high to the lowest low in two weeks. Because otherwise you would be back in the 1980s and '90s, you would be all over the place to hold the story together. Which you could do in some form, probably in a mini series. But in a two hour format, I thought we could get a lot out of it this way.

Guerrasio: It's a great jumping off point to tell the story. He becomes the winningest coach in college football history and then, what a week later —

Levinson: He won on a Saturday, winningest coach in the history of college football, the following Friday the Sandusky scandal begins. And literally, five days after that he's fired.

Guerrasio: Was the thinking also that with so much that has been written about Paterno over the years, on top of the documentary on the scandal itself, "Happy Valley," that there's a lot out there already. You can get away with just doing this pinnacle moment and not lose people.

Levinson: Yeah. The documentary covers a whole lot. We don't need to compete with all of that, but we can tell a separate story that almost nobody will know about. When you think about, one day there's an army of press outside his home and Paterno and his wife and the boys and daughter, everyone is like, "What happened?"

Posted by Geoff at 8:18 AM CDT
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Monday, April 9, 2018

I haven't seen it yet, but reviews of HBO's Paterno mention that the biopic uses a framing device in which Al Pacino (as Joe Paterno) is, as AV/TV Club's Ignatiy Vishnevetsky puts it, "lying helplessly in the narrow tube of the machine... watching as scenes are projected on its cylindrical wall." Of course, the first thing I think about when I read this is Pacino's Carlito, lying helplessly on a gurney at the beginning and end of Brian De Palma's Carlito's Way, gazing at the ad for "Paradise" as he flashes back to how he got there. De Palma, of course, was the original director for the Paterno project at HBO, when it was still called Happy Valley. David McKenna was the writer at the time, and one wonders if they had utilized this framing device in the script from the start, from a possible suggestion by De Palma and Pacino, looking back at Carlito's Way.

In any case, at least a couple of the reviews wish that De Palma had remained the director of the project, which was eventually made under the direction of Barry Levinson. Here's an excerpt from Vishnevetsky's review:

In other words, this isn’t what one would call an elegantly coordinated narrative. Making a secondary protagonist out of Sara Ganim (Riley Keough), who won a Pulitzer for her work on the charges against Sandusky and Penn State for The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, might seem like a no-brainer straight out of Screenwriting 101. But Debora Cahn and John C. Richards’ amateurish script opts to just have random characters shout exposition at the journalist (“Joe Pa made an ethos in this whole place!”), as though she were having the scandal reported to her instead of reporting on it. Bewilderingly, the question of whether Paterno knew about accusations that Sandusky was molesting young boys (he did, since at least the late 1990s) and helped sweep said accusations under the rug (of course he did) are placed at the center of the film, when it’s clear that the more interesting question is “Why?” A drama about sexual abuse and institutional corruption might seem topical, but all Paterno offers its audience is a chance to re-experience the cable news cycle of yesteryear.

Writing aside, Pacino’s Paterno is an intriguingly slumpy, sluggish, distracted figure. Having also played the title role in HBO’s David Mamet-directed Phil Spector, the actor is as much of an old hand at these things as Levinson, and he avoids bluster, instead stretching the raspy and burpy notes in his voice, playing the disgraced coach as a man confused by his own downfall. In fact, there are enough quality performances in Paterno—most notably from Greg Grunberg as Paterno’s son, Scott, and from Kathy Baker, who has a smaller role as the coach’s wife, Sue—to make one wish there were a better film to support them. One can’t help but play shoulda-woulda-coulda with the fact that Paterno began life as a reunion project for Pacino and his Scarface and Carlito’s Way director, Brian De Palma—by most accounts a very different film that would have focused on the relationship between Paterno and Sandusky. At the time, John Carroll Lynch was cast as the latter; in Paterno, the character is basically a non-speaking role, played by a jobbing actor named Jim Johnson, whose IMDB page offers a Tobias Fünke-esque collection of headshots.

To say that Levinson lacks formal chops of someone like De Palma would be an understatement. Enlisting the Hungarian cinematographer Marcell Rév (White God), he directs in the style that has increasingly come to pass for “creativity” in our age of prestige TV—that is, randomly placed wide-angle lenses and gelatinously shallow depth-of-field that presumably symbolizes the myopia of the characters, but mostly looks like the work of a film student who just got their hands on a T1.3 aperture for the first time. These entry-level distancing effects (see also: the MRI machine) never succeed in hiding or overcoming Paterno’s flimsiness as drama, its tendency to pass off the obvious as revelation. Is there a dark side to every success story? Probably. But the only cogent insight about society at large to emerge from HBO’s ongoing project to turn every fall from grace that makes the news for more than a week into a TV movie is the fact that there remains no shortage of material.

And here's an excerpt from the review by Variety's Mekeisha Madden Toby:
Watching HBO Films’ latest snatched-from-the-headlines project, “Paterno,” one can’t help but wonder how different it might have been had Brian De Palma directed it.

He’s had an advantageous working relationship with star Al Pacino on both “Scarface” and “Carlito’s Way.” In his hands, the film could have been a “King Lear”-level tragedy about a sports legend whose singular focus led to his downfall.

Instead what viewers get is director Barry Levinson’s well-intended but paroxysmal journey into legendary college football coach Joe Paterno’s fall from grace, fired by Penn State for his role in the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal.

Unsure if he wants to focus more on Paterno or newspaper journalist Sara Ganim — the reporter who broke the Sandusky story — Levinson constantly switches his gaze from one to the other. Ganim’s role as a consultant on the film may have mucked up the process even more. The end result is a film that clumsily tries to sympathize with Paterno instead of the young boys he chose to ignore until it was too late.

Posted by Geoff at 3:14 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, April 9, 2018 3:18 AM CDT
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Tuesday, May 16, 2017
"I find that television executives are very intrusive," Brian De Palma told Variety's Nick Vivarelli at the Venice Film Festival in September, 2015. "I’ve never had so many meetings with so many notes about a script than the one I developed for Al Pacino [about the fall of Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno] that HBO wanted to influence in a way that made it unworkable. I got to a point where I said: ‘guys, I’m done.'"

One year earlier, in September of 2014, HBO suspended pre-production on Happy Valley "for a moment to deal with budget issues," the network said at the time in a statement to Deadline, adding, "but the project is still intact at HBO with the entire creative team as before." Deadline then cited other unnamed sources to say that "the suspension would also be used for additional script work." Sounds like all that script work irked De Palma the wrong way, and he eventually walked away.

This morning, Showbiz 411's Roger Friedman reported that Barry Levinson will now direct Pacino in an untitled movie "about Joe Paterno and the Sandusky scandals at Penn State." Levinson and Pacino had previously collaborated on HBO's Jack Kervorkian biopic You Don't Know Jack in 2010. Levinson has a current vibe with HBO-- his Bernie Madoff biopic, The Wizard Of Lies, starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, premieres on the network this weekend. In 2013, Pacino made another biopic for HBO, with David Mamet directing him in Phil Spector.

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, May 21, 2017 2:40 PM CDT
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Sunday, October 12, 2014
Following up on his role as Twisty The Clown on this past week's season premiere of American Horror Story, The Star Tribune's Neal Justin profiled actor John Carroll Lynch the other day. Late in the article, Justin brings up HBO's currently-suspended production of Happy Valley, for which Lynch has been cast as Jerry Sandusky. Al Pacino will play Joe Paterno, and Brian De Palma will direct from a script by David McKenna. "Your guess is as good as mine,” Lynch tells Justin when asked if he thinks the movie will ever be made. “I believe it’s still alive. I think it’ll get done. It’s the perfect part for Al, and the script is excellent."

Posted by Geoff at 11:35 PM CDT
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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Posted by Geoff at 9:27 PM CDT
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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Posted by Geoff at 7:52 PM CDT
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Friday, September 19, 2014
Deadline's Nellie Andreeva and Mike Fleming report today that Happy Valley had indeed "been quietly picked up by HBO." The network issued a statement to Deadline today, saying, "We have not killed the project, so to say so [is] inaccurate. We have suspended pre-production for a moment to deal with budget issues, but the project is still intact at HBO with the entire creative team as before." Deadline cites other unnamed sources to say that "the suspension would also be used for additional script work."

The creative team referred to would be Brian De Palma (director), Al Pacino (star actor), David McKenna (screenwriter), Edward R. Pressman (producer), Rick Nicita (producer), Jon Katz (exec producer), and Joe Posnanski (co-producer who wrote the book, Paterno, that the film is using as its source).

According to the Deadline article, "Happy Valley has been undergoing casting, with John Carroll Lynch recently tapped to play [Jerry] Sandusky. Other cast deals had been in different stages too, but we’ve heard that casting sessions on the project had been cancelled and other prep work put on hold..."

Pacino has made two previous films for HBO in recent years: the 2010 Jack Kervorkian biopic You Don't Know Jack, directed by Barry Levinson (who also directed Pacino in his new film, The Humbling), and last year's Phil Spector, which was directed by David Mamet. Happy Valley would complete a trilogy of HBO films from strong directors in which Pacino plays a series of controversial real-life figures. Pacino, who won an Emmy for playing Kervorkian, also starred with Meryl Streep in the 2003 HBO miniseries Angels In America, for which he also won an Emmy Award.

Last year, Steven Soderbergh's Liberace biopic, Behind The Candelabra, was made for HBO, and yet had premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d'Or, and also played theatrically in the U.K. So even though Happy Valley will be an HBO film, there are theatrical and festival possibilities for it, as well.

Posted by Geoff at 7:22 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, September 19, 2014 7:38 PM CDT
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Thursday, September 18, 2014
The Wrap's Jeff Sneider posted yesterday that, according to "multiple individuals familiar with the project," John Carroll Lynch is preparing to play Jerry Sandusky in Brian De Palma's upcoming Happy Valley. I post this with a bit of hesitation, as The Wrap has been known to post exclusives that end up being mistaken. The end of the article states that "Lynch is represented by manager James Suskin, who did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment." However, it seems likely that Lynch is at least in talks for the role, and he would certainly be an excellent fit for the part. I've loved watching this actor since I first recall seeing him, in the Coen brothers' Fargo. And he made a sinister impression in David Fincher's Zodiac. Lynch has also been cast by Ryan Murphy "to portray a version of the Phantom of the Opera, carny style," on the upcoming fourth season of American Horror Story, according to the New York Times' Kathryn Shattuck. (Entertainment Weekly's Tim Stack states that Lynch plays the main villain, "a nasty fella (and murderer) named Twisty the Clown.") With Happy Valley ramping up to shoot this fall, that may require a bit of juggling between sets for Lynch.

Meanwhile, Variety reports that APA has booked stunt coordinator Mark Ellis for "HBO's Happy Valley." Ellis was the football coordinator on Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. Production messages have been flittering around the internet in the past few weeks referring to Happy Valley as an HBO project. However, I have been told that nothing is a done deal yet.

Posted by Geoff at 7:38 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, September 19, 2014 7:24 PM CDT
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Monday, September 15, 2014
Vulture's Jada Yuan talked to Al Pacino last week at the Toronto International Film Festival, and asked him about his plans to play Joe Paterno. Here is his reply to her:
"Well, for instance, Joe Paterno is a major subject. I really love that documentary they did [Happy Valley]. I found it really powerful. It wasn’t about Paterno, it was about us, our world. And I was responsive to it. So this movie about Paterno, and Brian De Palma is my friend and I love him as a director, I’ve made movies with him. But yeah, we need to find a way to tell this story in a way that has the power and the tragedy that it deserves. So in order to do that, one has to come up with the text. And that’s what we’ve been working toward. There’s other things: I’m working with David Mamet now on a new play. A live play. He did the Spector [movie] with me, I’ve known him a long time, and he’s just great to work with. And he’s a collaborator, too, at the same time. So there’s things to do."

Posted by Geoff at 12:09 AM CDT
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Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Several outlets have published interviews with Al Pacino this week. The September 15th issue of The New Yorker includes a profile on the actor by John Lahr, who mentions that Pacino has "two new movies waiting in the wings (Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, about the man who supposedly killed Jimmy Hoffa, and a Brian De Palma bio-pic about Joe Paterno), and a David Mamet play, China Doll, in the works for Broadway in 2015." Interesting to note that Lahr never mentions the title Happy Valley, which has been used as the title of Amir Bar-Lev's documentary, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and is also the title of an otherwise unrelated BBC One TV Series, a cop drama that has gained some popularity now on Netflix. In the following excerpt, Lahr's article delves a bit into Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather and De Palma's Scarface:

After Pacino got the "Godfather" role (for which he was paid a flat fee of thirty-five thousand dollars), he walked from his apartment, on Ninetieth Street and Broadway, to the Village and back, thinking about how he’d play it. “I didn’t see Michael as a gangster,” he said. “I saw his struggle as something that was connected to his intelligence, that innate sense of what’s around and being able to adjust to things.” He added, “The power of the character was in his enigmatic quality. And I thought, Well, how do you get to that? I think you wear it inside yourself, and you find a way to avoid, as much as you can, the obvious.” However, after his first week of avoiding the obvious, according to Pacino, “they wanted me fired—they didn’t see what I was doing. Luckily for me, the Sollozzo scene”—in which Michael earns his Mafia spurs by executing two men in a Bronx restaurant—“was the next day. When they saw that scene, they kept me.”

Pacino’s performance in “The Godfather” put him at the center of one of the great cinematic sagas of the century and on a first-name basis with the world. He was showered with accolades and offers. (Coppola asked him to star in “Apocalypse Now,” but he declined. “You know, sometimes you look into the abyss?” Pacino said. “I’m, like, this is the abyss. I’m not gonna go there.” He also turned down “Star Wars,” “Die Hard,” and “Pretty Woman.”) But perhaps the most satisfying response came from [Mario] Puzo, who wrote, “It was, in my eyes, a perfect performance, a work of art. I was so happy . . . I ate crow like it was my favorite Chinese food.” [Puzo had said Pacino was "terrible" in his screen test.]

Pacino’s other great early successes—“Serpico,” “The Godfather, Part II,” and “Dog Day Afternoon”—only added to his momentum. But, of all his performances in those years, the sleeper was his embodiment of the garish, vulgar, sensationally violent Tony Montana, an impoverished Cuban refugee who becomes the most powerful drug trafficker in Miami, in “Scarface.” The role was dismissed as “macho primitivism” at the time, but, over the years, it has emerged as a challenger to Michael Corleone as Pacino’s most popular creation. The director, Brian De Palma, designed “Scarface” as a kind of hyperbolic pageant. “The picture had a fire to it,” Pacino said, in “Al Pacino: In Conversation with Lawrence Grobel.” “The violence blown up, the language blown up. The spirit of it was Brechtian, operatic.” To play Montana, Pacino drew inspiration from the swagger of the Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran and from Meryl Streep’s committed rendering of the traumatized Polish immigrant Sophie, in “Sophie’s Choice.” As an actor, Pacino said, “you’re always looking for that thing that’s going on besides the words.” In “Scarface,” he connected with Montana’s raging ambition and the rebelliousness in his epigrammatic lines: “All I have in the world is my balls and my word, and I don’t break them for no one”; “You know what capitalism is? Getting fucked!”; “You wanna play rough? O.K. Say hello to my little friend!”


Variety's Scott Foundas mentions one other movie (besides Manglehorn and The Humbling) that Pacino has "in the can," Dan Fogelman’s Danny Collins, "where he plays an aging rock musician opposite Jennifer Garner and Michael Caine." Foundas then writes, "and just ramping up is Happy Valley, a reunion movie with his Scarface and Carlito’s Way director Brian De Palma in which he’ll play embattled Penn State football coach Joe Paterno." Of the latter, Pacino tells Foundas, “It’s dangerous. So one has to understand it, what happened, and explore it and try to find the tragedy in it.”

And Pacino also talked to The Daily Beast's Alex Suskind about Happy Valley, as well as Scarface, its upcoming remake, and some other things. It's a great conversation-- here's an excerpt:


When you were at Venice promoting The Humbling, you said the best advice you ever got was from Lee Strasberg telling you to constantly “adjust,” or live for the present and avoid reflecting on past failures or glories.

Yeah, I am one of many who live by that! Live in the moment. Seize the day. Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to look at both of them [failures and glories]. I mean, all bets are off.

The reason I bring that up is, aside from the parallel to this film, when it comes to past glories, so many of your earlier projects—The Godfather, Serpico, Scarface—are completely entrenched in pop culture. I feel like it would be very hard to not reflect on them in some way. Do you agree?

Well the truth is, I still sort of don’t [talk about them]. I must say, I am very grateful that I was around, especially in the ’70s, which were kind of a renaissance. But man, I have no memory of the ’70s! You have to understand, I was in another world! I didn’t know what was going on. But I am glad it worked out. So when you meet somebody who met you once—because I meet a lot of people and they know you because you’re an actor—it’s nice to know that when you meet that someone they say, “You were nice to me.” It’s just interesting. I’ve always appreciated the journey. They say it’s not the destination but the journey. So it still means something to me to be able to have an opportunity to be involved with something that I feel I have something to say with. It’s a form of communication. I still love the stage. I like doing that, but I wish I could define how it’s changed, because it has changed.

Acting in general?

Acting in general. I just want to do things that I feel would be in some way part of what I am going through or have some sense of. What you really do as an actor is you try to find in the role something that you can relate to that you feel can ignite you and give you the appropriate energy to commit to it in that way. Some of the movies I did early on I had that in general. Now I would find that it would be hard to do something that I couldn’t say something with.

And the roles you’ve chosen in the last few years definitely reflect that. You played Phil Spector and Jack Kevorkian. You also have Joe Paterno coming up for Happy Valley…

Yeah, we’re working on that.

How’s that going?

It’s developing. I see [the story] as a major fall—it’s a fall of a person.

It’s Shakespearean, Paterno’s story.

It is! Did you see the documentary Happy Valley?

I did. It was very good.

Stunning movie. And I kept thinking, it’s not the story of Paterno—that’s part of it, but it’s about Happy Valley. And it’s about all of us. It’s the way it’s sort of depicted and the intensity and the thought and how it makes you think. You go feeling one way and you leave and you sort of don’t know what to do.

How’s it being back with Brian de Palma [who’s directing Happy Valley]?

I love Brian. You know that. I love that guy. There’s a few things I am working on now. I am doing a new play with David Mamet.

Are you still doing The Irishman?

The Irishman. Wow. Oh yeah, Steve Zaillian script.

Yeah, and Martin Scorsese directing.

Yeah, [Joe] Pesci, [Robert] De Niro, Bobby Cannavale.

You’ve never done anything with Scorsese, which is interesting because you would assume you would have at this point.

Isn’t that something?

Have you guys gotten close to doing anything together?

I don’t think I’ve gotten close to doing something with Marty. I know him. He’s such a great director. But I am sure there are other actors who Marty hasn’t worked with.

Of course. But you’re very much associated with that community of actors and filmmakers.

Yeah, I know. But at that period [in the 1970s] we were sort of split. Scorsese made movies with De Niro and I was making movies with [Sidney] Lumet. But I can’t think of a Scorsese movie that I would have been right for.

I assume it will be nice working with Robert De Niro again.

Oh, I love Bobby. I love him. Getting the opportunity to work with him, especially on something that is with one of the greatest directors ever.

Critics weren’t too kind to you and De Niro’s last project, Righteous Kill.

Well, that one was not [pauses]… You want to do something again that you feel good about.

Do you pay attention to critics at all? In the last decade, they have been pretty brutal about the films you’ve done.

Well, something happened, because it’s all about the Internet. How do you not pay attention and then how do you pay attention, is the question. Because you get a sense of things and you get a sense of where it’s going. That’s why you try to just keep going. I have always been aware [of the bad reviews]. It’s not wise to stick [with them]. Unless you can find good criticism, which is hard to do, because you get too subjective.

So, like, constructive criticism?

Yeah, I mean, I love that. I especially like it in live theater. If you know what you’re doing, it’s fulfilling something in yourself, then it doesn’t matter as much. It still matters. We’re all sensitive to it. It’s when you feel a little bit on the fence about what you’ve done and you’re concerned about it. It’s like Tennessee Williams said, “You can always depend on the kindness of strangers.” You can’t do that here [laughs]. You know what I mean?

I mentioned Scarface earlier. Have you heard about this remake Universal is doing?

I’ve heard of it!

What are your thoughts on that? They are kind of changing the story apparently. It’s going to be set in LA.

Well, if it’s inspired by the movie, I think that’s good.

I think it’s inspired by both. The original and yours.

That’s what we were doing. I saw the Scarface with Paul Muni on Sunset Boulevard at the… whatever the name of that theater is, the Tiffany. I said, “Oh I love this Paul Muni so much, I just want to make a movie and imitate him. That’s all I want to do.” And I called [my agent] and said “There is a movie here for us to do now.” It was 50 years old but it says so much. So we got De Palma, we got Oliver Stone to do the screenplay…

I think it’s fascinating the second life the film has taken on, especially in hip-hop.

Yeah, it still goes on. And the fact that it was so eviscerated when it first came out was a bit surprising, because we thought Brian deliberately tried to make it operatic. There was a whole thought in the 1980s, that Wall Street greed thing and this sense of avarice was in the air. And this movie sort of covered it, and it was Brian’s vision, which I went along with completely. I thought it was the way to go. And I think critics didn’t quite follow that. But audiences kept coming and stayed around. And they just kept coming and it had this resurgence. We always felt there was something there. But at the time, like all things, it wasn’t in fashion. The fashion was more in naturalism in films. Low-key stuff. There were so many wonderful movies being made during that. But this came out in a different fashion and it didn’t belong in the pantheon of things.


Posted by Geoff at 4:36 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, September 10, 2014 4:44 AM CDT
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