Tag Archives: David O. Russell

Adaptation: The Truth About Charlie


In 1994, Jonathan Demme bought the rights to journalist Susan Orlean’s book ”The Orchid Thief”, where she investigated the arrest of John Laroche who was dealing illegally in rare plants. Neither she nor Demme could have predicted what would happen when he asked Charlie Kaufman to turn it into a screenplay. Kaufman, who was the brilliant, absurd mind behind Being John Malkovich (1999), hit a creative wall and couldn’t figure out how to adapt this non-fiction book. Eventually, he figured the only way he could do it was to go completely nuts, incorporate himself in the story and make up a final act involving not only Orlean and Laroche but also himself and his fictional twin brother Donald! Kaufman never told the people who hired him what he was up to, convinced that he’d get fired, but he did confide in Spike Jonze, who had directed Being John Malkovich. As it turned out, Adaptation. didn’t end Kaufman’s career, but must be considered a high point.

Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage), in this version, is brilliant but full of self-loathing. Socially inept, the only thing he can focus on whenever he’s in a meeting with a studio representative is how fat, bald and sweaty he is. His twin brother Donald also wants to become a screenwriter; in awe of his brother, Donald visits the set of Being John Malkovich and has a lighthearted way with the cast and crew that Charlie can’t muster. Donald’s attempt at writing a thriller basically has everything that Charlie hates about Hollywood, but he still gives him (tepid) support. In the meantime, Charlie suffers from writer’s block. He doesn’t know how to approach ”The Orchid Thief”, but is still afraid of talking to Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) whom he’s attracted to from a distance…

Reflecting the themes of the book
When the real-life Orlean heard what Kaufman had come up with, she was horrified, thinking this will destroy her reputation… especially considering what he has her doing in the final act of the movie. When she finally saw the film she had no regrets and came to admire how well it reflects the themes of her book. As we follow Kaufman’s struggles, flashbacks also take us back a few years to the time when Orlean approached the weirdly charismatic John Laroche (Chris Cooper) in Florida, who had hired a group of Seminoles as a way of getting around the law in his pursuit of rare orchids. As she got to know him better, she learned the tragedy in his past and developed a special relationship with this man who wasn’t easy to get along with. This part of the film is moving and Jonze handles the disparity between that and the offbeat humor of the Kaufmans’ screenwriting projects well. Obviously, the whole film goes off the tracks completely in the end when all the characters meet… but amazingly enough it works as a perfect symbol of the whole creative process that Kaufman’s been going through and how it risks consuming you altogether. The story depicts passion and its motivations, be it writing or searching for that elusive flower in a Florida swamp. Funny and strange, the film dissolves the border between reality and fiction, but in a clever way that doesn’t limit this as a concern only for Kaufman.

The cast is a huge asset. This is one, no, two of Cage’s best performances ever as the neurotic Charlie and the wide-eyed, sociable Donald; their interaction is totally believable even though it’s fake, just like Donald. Streep and Cooper add gravitas to the film as the journalist and the orchid-hunter who open up to each other and then form a bond that threatens to destroy the man trying to portray them. 

Adaptation. 2002-U.S. 115 min. Color. Produced by Jonathan Demme, Vincent Landay, Edward Saxon. Directed by Spike Jonze. Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman. Book: Susan Orlean (”The Orchid Thief”). Music: Carter Burwell. Cast: Nicolas Cage (Charlie Kaufman/Donald Kaufman), Meryl Streep (Susan Orlean), Chris Cooper (John Laroche), Tilda Swinton, Cara Seymour, Brian Cox… Judy Greer, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ron Livingston, Stephen Tobolowsky. Cameos: John Malkovich, Catherine Keener, Curtis Hanson, John Cusack, David O. Russell.

Trivia: The screenplay was officially credited to Charlie and ”Donald” Kaufman. Joaquin Phoenix was allegedly considered for Cooper’s role.

Oscar: Best Supporting Actor (Cooper). Golden Globes: Best Supporting Actor (Cooper), Supporting Actress (Streep). BAFTA: Best Adapted Screenplay. Berlin: Jury Grand Prix.

Last word: “I’d be literally acting with a tennis ball or an X on a wall, to tell me where to look, and an earpiece in my ear listening to whatever I had already recorded so that I wouldn’t overlap dialog. And then I’d try to move so it worked with my memory of what I’d done as the other character […] I was a fan of Jeremy Irons’ performance as twins in ‘Dead Ringers’. But I’d get frustrated when we would switch the characters three or four times a day. At one point I literally screamed out of frustration and Spike would talk me down.” (Cage, RogerEbert.com)



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Three Kings


threekingsAfter the Gulf War, a group of Army officers get their hands on a document showing the location of bunkers that might contain gold bullion that Iraqi soldiers stole from Kuwait… Director David O. Russell’s first major critical breakthrough may look like Kelly’s Heroes (1970) on paper, but its heist story takes on a more satirical and emotional edge with a portrait of how President Bush failed to support those Iraqis who were led to believe that America would help them rise against Saddam. Exploring how soldiers handle humanism and rationality, the film is lively, chaotic and absurd, essentially a wild ride with an enjoyable ensemble cast. 

1999-U.S. 115 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Paul Junger Witt, Edward L. McDonnell, Charles Roven. Written and directed by David O. Russell. Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel. Cast: George Clooney (Archie Gates), Mark Wahlberg (Troy Barlow), Ice Cube (Chief Elgin), Spike Jonze, Nora Dunn, Jamie Kennedy… Judy Greer.

Trivia: Clint Eastwood and Nicolas Cage were allegedly considered for Clooney’s part.

Last word: “I always have a shot list, and I always know what I want compositionally. You have to storyboard action stuff, like in ‘Three Kings’. I made that picture because I wanted to come out of that dark, intense, somewhat more cynical place I’d been in as an angry younger man – I’d worked through that in the first few films, and I wanted to do something bigger. Something more muscular, about men who weren’t wobbling so much, like the guys in those first two movies. I wanted to shoot some action.” (Russell, DGA)

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joyAfter the wacky American Hustle (2013), director David O. Russell reverted to a more solid kind of storytelling along the lines of his The Fighter (2011). This is the real-life story of Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence), the hard-luck, single mom who invented the Miracle Mop and struggled to get her business off the ground. The members of her family turn into Russell’s expected gallery of quirky characters and are wonderful to watch; the same is true for Lawrence who delivers a knock-out performance, her third in a row for Russell. Funny and engrossing, with a very entertaining look behind the scenes of the Home Shopping Network in its fledgling days.

2015-U.S. 124 min. Color-B/W. Produced by John Davis, Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon, Ken Mok, David O. Russell. Written and directed by David O. Russell. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Joy Mangano), Robert De Niro (Rudy Mangano), Bradley Cooper (Neil Walker), Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen… Isabella Rossellini, Melissa Rivers.

Trivia: Co-executive produced by Joy Mangano. Rivers plays her late mother Joan. In the soap opera scenes, the actors are played by several actual soap stars, including Susan Lucci.

Golden Globe: Best Actress (Lawrence).

Last word: “It was the most ambitious film I ever made. We all got sick, and it was the biggest winter in 80 years in Boston – like 11 feet of snow or something. Jennifer was getting sick between takes and then she’d come back and do the most romantic scene. But it gave her this weird vulnerability and it made her seem younger. It was so weird how she used it, because being sick does make you feel like a child. You just want to stay in bed and be comforted.” (Russell, Deadline)

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The Greatest Hits of 2015

It’s time for that annual list of next year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2015 for ya.


* Blackhat – Michael Mann’s first directorial outing since Public Enemies (2009) is a cyber thriller starring Chris Hemsworth. Its January release makes it hard to really get excited about it. 

* Escobar: Paradise Lost – Notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar reaches the big screen in the shape of Benicio Del Toro. Josh Hutcherson plays the innocent young man who becomes a witness to Escobar’s life of crime. 

* Still Alice – There have been several Alzheimer dramas before (most notably Away From Her (2007)), but this one boasts an already heavily lauded performance by Julianne Moore.

* Mortdecai – David Koepp is an unreliable director, but this art-heist comedy might be worth a look. A true star vehicle for Johnny Depp, who needs a hit.


* Jupiter Ascending – The Wachowski siblings deliver another sci-fi movie, this time starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis. The stars will help, but it’s doubtful that audiences will be much attracted to the film.

* Kingsman: The Secret Service – An action thriller from Matthew Vaughn that follows a veteran secret agent taking on a protégé. Starring Colin Firth and Michael Caine. 

* Fifty Shades of Grey – No one expects this adaptation of the hugely successful novel to be any good; the only question is how naughty will it be? And will audiences line up to find out? Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are in the leads.


* Cinderella – Kenneth Branagh directs this movie that seems to follow in the footsteps of Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Huntsman and Maleficent. Lily James plays Cinderella in the live-action version. 

* Insurgent – The sequel to Divergent (2014). It’s hard to separate this series from the Hunger Games movies and all the other dystopian youth thrillers. But the first film was a huge hit. 

* Serena – Susanne Bier’s first American film since Things We Lost in the Fire (2007) is a Depression-era drama about a love affair between a girl and a millionaire. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are likely to bring star power.


* Furious 7 – There’s an anxiety to make this movie worth the effort, considering it’s Paul Walker’s last. It will no doubt be interesting to see how well the filmmakers have worked around his absence. It certainly looks wild.

* Child 44 – Daniel Espinosa directs this adaptation of an excellent hard-boiled bestseller, a serial-killer thriller set in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman are headlining.


* Avengers: Age of Ultron – Summer puts in a higher gear with this sequel that reunites some of our favorite superheroes.  I hope Joss Whedon lives up to the original, and I look forward to watching James Spader as the villain.

* Mad Max: Fury Road – Perhaps few expected George Miller’s belated sequel to the 1980s franchise to be noteworthy, but the trailers that have been released so far indicate a furious thrill ride. Tom Hardy is in the lead. 

* Tomorrowland – A new Brad Bird movie is always worth a look. This sci-fi adventure, that was co-authored by Damon Lindelof and stars George Clooney, looks very intriguing.


* Jurassic World – It’s been 14 years since the last Jurassic Park movie and that time difference is illustrated in the story of this sequel. Now it’s a fully operational theme park, and very busy. I’m sure everything will go wrong. 

* Inside Out – The new Pixar movie is a weird concept. We follow the emotions inside a little girl, all represented by quirky characters. Co-directed by Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter.

* Ricki and the Flash – Meryl Streep plays an aging rock star who’s trying to reconnect with her kids. May sound unremarkable, but Jonathan Demme is directing and Streep is probably a hoot to watch. And there’s Kevin Kline.


* Terminator Genisys – Terminator Salvation (2007) failed to jump-start this franchise, but here comes a movie that seems to be everything – a sequel, a remake and a prequel all at once. And Arnold Schwarzenegger returns. Has to be seen. 

* Ant-Man – Can’t say I’m excited about this latest superhero project, but perhaps a sense of humor will boost it, as in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy. The cast has Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly.


* The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – Guy Ritchie directs this adaptation of the 1960s spy series. I guess Warner is hoping for their own Mission: Impossible franchise. Stars Henry Cavill and Hugh Grant.

* Straight Outta Compton – The story of the legendary hiphop group N.W.A. reaches the big screen. Director F. Gary Gray’s first film in six years. Paul Giamatti is in the cast.


* Everest – A star-studded thriller about a Mount Everest expedition that is hit by a snowstorm. Starring Keira Knightley, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robin Wright and Josh Brolin.

* Black Mass – Infamous Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger is the subject of this film that focuses on his rise. Johnny Depp plays Bulger and the cast also has Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller and Joel Edgerton.


* The Walk – Did you see the documentary Man on Wire (2008)? Well, here comes Robert Zemeckis’s fictionalized version, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The teaser is eye-popping, and I believe this is an occasion where the 3D will truly serve a purpose.

* The Jungle Book – Hard to tell what Jon Favreau might make of this adaptation, but it seems inspired by the Disney version as much as Rudyard Kipling. Bill Murray and Christopher Walken will provide the voices of Baloo and King Louie.

* Crimson Peak – Guillermo del Toro directs this ghost movie starring Charlie Hunnam and Jessica Chastain. Early footage was a hit at Comic-Con last summer.


* Spectre – The 24th James Bond movie promises to reintroduce both SPECTRE and Blofeld. Daniel Craig returns and Christoph Waltz plays the villain. Sam Mendes is back in the directing chair after the success of Skyfall (2012). 

* The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 – The book certainly did not need to be divided into two separate movies, but here’s the final film in this franchise.

* Midnight Special – Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols returns with a film about a man who goes on the lam with his son after discovering that the boy has special powers. Stars Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Michael Shannon.


* Star Wars: The Force Awakens – The most heavily anticipated movie of the year. The teaser trailer got everybody curious and J.J. Abrams’s take on this franchise certainly looks exciting. Now we’re waiting for a first look of the old stars…

* Mission: Impossible 5 – Both the plot and, likely, the title are unknown at this time. But Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner and the other familiar faces from this franchise are returning. Christopher McQuarrie, who made Jack Reacher, is helming.

* Joy – David O. Russell is back with another vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence, who plays a Long Island single mom who becomes a wildly successful entrepreneur. Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro are also in the cast.

* The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu directs this drama about a frontiersman who sets out for revenge in the 1820s. Stars Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio.

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American Hustle


americanhustleIn 1978, FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) enlists two con artists (Christian Bale, Amy Adams), who are also lovers, in an operation targeting political corruption. Loosely based on the real-life ABSCAM sting, this movie lacks focus and rambles a bit, which is a shame since the scandal deserved a more riveting treatment. But David O. Russell has never been one to let storytelling get in the way of colorful characters and period details. You get plenty of that here, along with isolated funny and dramatic scenes, and a very entertaining cast where Bale (in a hideous comb-over) and Adams stand out.

2013-U.S. 138 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by David O. Russell. Screenplay: David O. Russell, Eric Singer. Cinematography: Linus Sandgren. Cast: Christian Bale (Irving Rosenfeld), Bradley Cooper (Richie DiMaso), Amy Adams (Sydney Prosser), Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K…. Michael Peña. Cameo: Robert De Niro.

Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Actress (Adams), Supporting Actress (Lawrence). BAFTA: Best Supporting Actress (Lawrence), Original Screenplay, Make Up & Hair.

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Silver Linings Playbook


silverliningsplaybookAfter eight months in a mental hospital, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who has bipolar disorder, is released into the care of his parents (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver) and stubbornly plots a reunion with his wife. Another portrayal of a motley working-class family from David O. Russell who last made The Fighter (2010), this time though in the shape of a romantic dramedy, with two frail characters who can’t avoid each other. Superstition, manipulation and other means we use to deceive ourselves (and others) is a clear theme in a film that’s entertaining, real and unpredictable. Loses momentum in its final 45 minutes, but regains its footing thanks to a superior ensemble.

2012-U.S. 122 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Bruce Cohen, Donna Gigliotti, Jonathan Gordon. Written and directed by David O. Russell. Novel: Matthew Quick. Cast: Bradley Cooper (Pat Solitano), Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany Maxwell), Robert De Niro (Pat Solitano, Sr.), Jacki Weaver (Dolores Solitano), Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher… Julia Stiles.

Trivia: Anne Hathaway and Mark Wahlberg were allegedly considered for the leads.

Oscar: Best Actress (Lawrence). Golden Globe: Best Actress (Lawrence). BAFTA: Best Adapted Screenplay.

Last word: “I wanted to do it because it was an opportunity to make a movie about, in a way, matters that relate to my son. Matters that have felt challenging to him. To bring those challenges to light in a movie and give them a story, and with love, is really a healing thing for him and the whole family. You know, my son has struggled with bi-polarity and OCD, so, to do it in a movie is really … You know, there was always ‘dad’s movie is over here,’ then there was him and his struggles over there. And now they’re together, and that’s a nice thing to have it be part of a story. And he’s the kid in the movie – the kid that rings the doorbell and Robert De Niro chases.” (Russell, Huffington Post)

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The Fighter

thefighterIt certainly has a ring of truth, this home-grown drama about the troubled relationship between two Massachusetts prizefighters who are also brothers, Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund. The project was nursed by Mark Wahlberg (also born and raised in that state), shot on location, features a few real-life appearances (such as Mickey O’Keefe, Ward’s mentor) and the intense fights are shot in a way that closely resembles their original TV coverage. The cast delivers heartfelt performances, especially Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, although the portrayal of this ultra-trashy family sometimes risks becoming a little too comical.

2010-U.S. 115 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Mark Wahlberg, Dorothy Aufiero, David Hoberman, Ryan Kavanaugh, Todd Lieberman, Paul Tamasy. Directed by David O. Russell. Screenplay: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson. Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema. Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Micky Ward), Christian Bale (Dicky Eklund), Amy Adams (Charlene Fleming), Melissa Leo (Alice Ward), Jack McGee… Sugar Ray Leonard.

Trivia: Matt Damon and Brad Pitt were allegedly considered for the part of Dicky; Darren Aronofsky for directing duties.

Oscars: Best Supporting Actor (Bale), Supporting Actress (Leo). Golden Globes: Best Supporting Actor (Bale), Supporting Actress (Leo).

Last word: “[Taking on the co-producer role] was just out of sheer desperation for getting the movie made. I had already promised Micky, Dicky, Alice, Charlene, everybody else involved, that we were gonna get this movie made. And it seemed, you know, at first glance, like it was a no-brainer. I mean, amazing parts, what a wonderful story, a really new and interesting world that you’re not that familiar with. And it just wasn’t meant to be, so we just had to grab ahold of it and force it to happen with sheer will and determination – but very much like Micky’s journey to winning the title. He just had to go and make it happen.” (Wahlberg, About.com)

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i ♥ huckabees


ihuckabeesEnvironmentalist Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) hires two “existential detectives” (Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman) to follow him around; the purpose is to learn what life is all about. Director David O. Russell got a little crazy with this comedy that is living its own life without much regard for the audience. The “story” is hard to follow… but it’s supposed to be. It’s just as convoluted as life itself and the many theories on the meaning of life. I like the film’s high spirits and the acting, but on the whole, it does absolutely nothing for me. 

2004-U.S. 105 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by David O. Russell. Cast: Jason Schwartzman (Albert Markovski), Dustin Hoffman (Bernard Jaffe), Lily Tomlin (Vivian Jaffe), Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts… Isabelle Huppert, Tippi Hedren, Shania Twain, Jonah Hill, Isla Fisher. Cameos: Talia Shire, Richard Jenkins.

Trivia: Shire, who plays Schwartzman’s mom, is also his real-life mother. Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman were allegedly considered for a part in the film.

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