I can't tell you how much I liked Barry Levinson's Bandits — or implore you enough to see it this weekend. Bandits co-stars Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett and Bruce Willis and is already being hailed as the contemporary heir to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Levinson, of course, directed Diner and Tin Men and won an Oscar for Rain Man.
Thornton is reinvented in this film as a kind of modern twist on The Odd Couple's Felix Unger. And Blanchett will definitely get a Best Supporting Actress nod for her housewife-turned-bankrobber (think of a sexy Patty Hearst!). Her first scenes, in her kitchen, reminded me of a Jules Feiffer cartoon.
The newcomer in Bandits is Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden's 27-year-old son, Troy Garity, who marks his first appearance in a big-budget studio picture. And he's a hit through and through. The funny thing is, I remember this kid from 20 years ago when his mother had her production company at 20th Century-Fox. Little Troy used to hang out on the backlot. Now he's a movie star.
When I spoke with two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda recently, she told me she's thrilled to pieces about Troy's rave reviews. I wondered where she thought he fit into the Fonda family acting dynasty with her dad, Henry, brother Peter and niece Bridget.
She told me that Troy is a natural to extend her family's acting legacy into the next generation: "I see a resemblance to my dad. But just as I don't see any of us in Bridget, it's the same with Troy," she said. "In Bandits, he's an oddly romantic character, he's totally different and he's goofy. I visited him on the set in Portland. He grew up on my sets watching me. So I thought it would be interesting to be on his set. It just felt perfect."
Julia Roberts has dropped out of plans to make A Time to Be Born.
This is the news from another member of a theatrical dynasty, actress/director Anjelica Huston. She's going ahead with plans to direct Time based on her own script.
A Time to Be Born is based on the Dawn Powell novel of the same name, set in the late 1930s and loosely following the saga of Amanda, a social climber from Ohio who makes it in Manhattan. When Time was published some 50 years ago, it was generally acknowledged to be a roman à clef about Clare Boothe Luce, the writer and wife of Time magazine founder Henry Luce. Boothe herself was the author of the famous play, The Women, currently getting a rival here on Broadway.
So why did Julia drop out? I'm told there was some idea of updating the script to place it in a contemporary setting instead of leaving it in old New York. But anyone who's read Powell's scrumptious novels knows that this gifted but unheralded writer was prescient in her understanding of society and its players. Each book is like a box of truffles. The characters are all murderously trying to get ahead in the big city. If you didn't know it was set in 1938, you'd swear it was 2001.
Huston will keep the story set in its proper time, acknowledging the obvious correlations between now and then. In the meantime, she stars in Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, which opens Dec. 12.
Are the Wu Tang Clan headed to a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack?
Crazier things have happened. Tarantino recently had lunch in New York with Donnie Yen, star of the new kick-ass flick Iron Monkey, and took along RZA from the rapping Clan. As usual, the Tarantino meeting went on and on, but with Quentin recently hiring martial arts experts to help out on his new movie, Kill Bill, certainly the idea is in the air.
At a screening of Iron Monkey — which opens today and could turn into a cult hit —pregnant Kill Bill star Uma Thurman spent some quality time getting to know RZA, further cementing the bond. Also at the screening: indie director Jim Jarmusch, rapper Pras from the Fugees, Royal T's director Wes Anderson, and Beastie Boys founder Adam Yauch. After the screening, Shaolin monks gave a demonstration, prompting one and all — excluding Thurman — to try their own moves.
Iron Monkey, by the way, was choreographed by Woo-Ping Yuen, who brought similar magic to The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The fight scenes are said to be amazing.
Rocker Nick Lowe used to go by the nickname "Basher" in the late '70s. He perfected what was known as Power Pop with his short, fast, rousing singles "So It Goes" and "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass." He also became a cult figure for producing Elvis Costello's albums with the Attractions, writing Costello's famous hit "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding" and working with Dave Edmunds as a producer and performer in the late, much lamented Rockpile.
But these days Lowe keeps a lower profile. He doesn't bash. He's more bashful in his music. This month his new album The Convincer (Yep Roc Records) was released as the third part of a wonderfully urbane trilogy that includes The Impossible Bird and Dig My Mood. These albums, all three of them, are gems.
When I spoke to Nick last week, he told me he has few regrets but one of them is his falling-out many years ago with Edmunds. "I'd like to be friends with him again. You can write that. I don't know why we're not."
One reason might be that Edmunds holds Lowe responsible for breaking up Rockpile after one great album. "But I never thought of taking the group beyond that," Nick said.
So Dave, come on, let's get it together. Nick does sound very convincing.
The songs on The Convincer are all original with the exception of two — exceptional versions of Johnny Rivers' standard "Poor Side of Town" and Arthur Prysock's "Only A Fool Breaks His Own Heart."
"It's quite hard to find the right songs to cover," Lowe said. "I'd never heard of the Johnny Rivers song before but two of the musicians in our group spent time touring with Van Morrison. They heard the song on an easy listening channel on an airplane. I thought it would be an undiscovered gem. Now I find everyone knows it. It's like the bloody national anthem!"
But it's the originals that stand out here — "Cupid Must Be Angry," "I'm A Mess," and "Indian Queens" among them. Lowe makes these records with a small combo in an intimate setting — a far cry from the wall of sound that made his classic album Pure Pop for Now People glisten. ("Cupid," which should be a hit on Adult Contemporary stations, was inspired by a line from British writer Nancy Mitford, Lowe says. "He had a face like an angry cupid.")
And, oh how times have changed. The British title of Pure Pop was Jesus of Cool. But the American record company, Columbia, was too afraid to use it.
"It's funny to think of it," Lowe says, "considering the stuff that comes out now."
Many of the songs on The Convincer — like an original called "Homewrecker" — are about heartbreak and loss. (Lowe's been married a couple of times, most famously to Johnny Cash's stepdaughter Carlene Carter.)
"I'm 52 now and if you haven't experienced a serious kicking emotionally and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, you've probably had a sheltered life. I find it endlessly interesting."
As just a footnote for the weekend, I've got to say that if you gather up new releases by Lowe, Glenn Tilbrook, Leonard Cohen, Macy Gray and of course, Bob Dylan, that's quite a nice bunch of recordings for adults of a certain age to listen to and admire. More than we've had in a long, long time.