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If River Phoenix had never died, would Leonardo DiCaprio’s career be the same?

Last night, on a Saturday evening at about 12:21am, I was reading the Wikipedia for River Phoenix (what else would one possibly be doing at that time?). I came across two things I didn’t know (well, way more than that — like how close River Phoenix and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers are — but two for the purposes of this post):

  • River had been interested in making The Basketball Diaries into a film. That did happen, in 1996 — with Leo DiCaprio in the lead.
  • He had expressed interest as the lead in Total Eclipse. That went to — you guessed it — Leo.

River Phoenix did in October of 1993, tragically. At the time, Leo had predominantly been in TV shows (RoseanneGrowing PainsParenthood) and then received acclaim in This Boy’s Life. (Another big movie for him, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, didn’t actually come out in the United States until December 1993 — two months after the tragic passing of River Phoenix.)

Leo was about four years younger than River Phoenix (former born in 1974, latter born in 1970).

If you think Titanic was “the” break for Leo (probably true), you have to wonder — would he have gotten there (the attention of James Cameron, etc.) without things like The Basketball Diaries and Total Eclipse? For Titanic, they needed a potential heartthrob; they didn’t necessarily need a great actor (which Leo was already proving with This Boy’s Life and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape).

Major sliding doors moment here, then, but if River Phoenix lives through Halloween 1993 — many argue he should have — is Leo’s career in the same place now?

He probably still has the women and potentially the yachts –

– but you could make a case that certain roles, perhaps even Titanic, would have found their way to River Phoenix or other young stars of the time because Leo didn’t have that steadily-increasing branding.

Hell, I mean — Titanic itself could have gone to Jeremy Sisto, apparently:

Lest you think I’m a total moron (I probably am), here’s HitFix on the same topic of Leo and River:

River Phoenix was well on his way to being a bankable star when he passed away. Acclaim was something that had become a given, and he was certainly not above making a decision that was about getting better opportunities and being able to help get something good made. He would have, at the very least, been in the running for “Titanic,” and I can imagine Cameron wanting that perfect blend of credibility and commercial appeal, and someone a little older. After all, Phoenix was set to star in “The Basketball Diaries” at one point, and “Total Eclipse” is another role that was his at first. It is not a stretch to say that DiCaprio’s early days could have easily been delayed or deferred if Phoenix was around to take roles away from him.

There’s also this:

If River lived I do think Leonardo would have had a career still… but if River took Titanic… it would have meant Leonardo would probably need a few more major movie roles to live upto the fame and celebrity him taking Titanic gave him… Titanic pretty much made Leo a household name, so he might not be as popular but I do think he would still be a respected actor, because he has the talent.

In the broader scope of things, young Leo in the early 1990s considered River Phoenix an icon/hero — and purportedly saw him early in the evening he ultimately died.


Did y’all know Transformers 4 is about to become China’s highest-grossing movie ever? (And at a time when the U.S. box office is terrible.)

I haven’t seen any of the Transformers movies since maybe the first one — and I’m unclear honestly if I even saw that one — but regardless, the reviews for the fourth one have been kind of terrible. It’s got an 18 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, for chrissakes! Proving once again that there’s absolutely no correlation between “mass appeal” and “critical appeal,” though … it’s about to become the highest-grossing movie in Chinese history. It will surpass Avatar (no surprise, as that’s still the highest-grossing film of all-time) and just surpassed some movie called Lost in Thailand, which was (oddly) the No. 2 grossing movie in China’s history.

This is all interesting because the U.S. box office, while still the global king, is suffering a bit. This 4th of July weekend was the worst 4th for the U.S. movie industry since the 1980s, adjusting for inflation and all that. It’s a bit hard to compare 4th weekends directly because the actual 4th falls on different days each year, but if you say “… worst since the 1980s,” that kind of gives it some context. That said, the only real new thing that opened stateside seemed to be Tammy, which Gawker called “torture porn with better timing,” so … there’s that. This wasn’t a Will Smith holiday this time around, you know?

China’s film industry is now $3.6 billion annually, which is the largest market outside of the U.S. and Canada. The next largest market is Japan, at about $2.4 billion annually; thus, China is about 50 percent further along than Japan in terms of grosses. Some have called this “a golden age” for China film-wise. As that relates to the U.S., though, there are some contextual things to understand:

But it’s not clear how much this phenomenal growth will actually shore up the global film industry. Currently, only 34 foreign films are allowed in Chinese theaters a year. Chinese officials were reportedly considering raising that number to 44, possibly around the time of the National People’s Congress. That meeting has now passed without any new announcements about foreign film quotas.

Despite Hollywood’s lobbying, China has been loathe to let too many foreign movies in while its domestic film industry is still growing. US film companies get only 25% of box office earnings for their movies in China, compared to 40%-45% in other countries—and last year Chinese officials held up the payment of $143 million in an attempt to negotiate an even lower cut.
Interestingly, you’re seeing the same thing in China as you are in the United States: some content is being found via “going viral” and navigating over to other mediums. “Old Boys” is one example. Streaming is getting big there, too. (As are tax breaks.)

Jason Priestley and Brad Pitt lived together (?!?!) in the late 1980s, apparently read Bibles and didn’t shower that often

It’s always funny to think of people who got big before they were big — like Leo in a Lassie movie, for example. Above is Brad Pitt from the TV show 21 Jump Street, which is one of his earlier “moderately-well-known”roles. Apparently, as he was trying to get his big break, he lived with Jason Priestley (of Beverly Hills 90210) for a time. Priestley just wrote a memoir — because a Jason Priestley memoir is 100 percent what the publishing industry was clamoring for in May 2014 — and he name-dropped a few people, including Pitt:

“Just for fun, we used to have competitions over who could go the longest without showering and shaving. Brad always won. Having to go on an audition meant cleaning up, which is what usually put an end to the streak.”

OK. There’s also this:

After a Christmas visit with his family in the Midwest in 1990, Pitt threw a small holiday party. All the guys exchanged bottles of booze — “except for our host,” writes Priestley.

“Brad had returned from Missouri with a box of Bibles,” he writes. “There was one for each of us . . . Brad was so pleased with himself he could not stop smiling.”

Pitt, who had recently wrapped his role in “Thelma & Louise,” was carrying on a secret affair with co-star Geena Davis, Priestly writes.

OK. Interesting. This is a little bit closer to “Stars: Just Like Us!” (minus the showering thing) than most attempts in pop culture to actually do that conceit. I’m not sure why Jason Priestley is writing a book, per se, but at least these nuggets are moderately interesting.

Will Atom Egoyan’s “The Captive” be a career rebirth for both him and Ryan Reynolds?

Atom Egoyan, the Armenian-Canadian filmmaker, made some of the best under-the-radar films of the 1990s: Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter come to mind. He’s dropped off a bit in recent years with Chloe – good sex scenes, but not a good movie — and Devil’s Knot – interesting premise, but overlong. Similarly, Ryan Reynolds — while always kinda starring in less-than-stellar romantic comedies (and as Deadpool) — seems to have dropped off a bit in recent years (and to add gasoline to that fire, ScarJo is now pregnant with some other dude’s child). But now they’ve both got a shot at the “rebirth” mantra: their film, The Captive, is going to be at Cannes next month. (So will Foxcatcher, which is getting a lot of buzz for Steve Carrell.)

This movie also has Mireille Enos (from The Killing), Rosario Dawson, and Scott Speedman, among others; the plot isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Essentially, a girl gets abducted and family bonds begin to fray. We saw this to a different extent in Prisoners last year with Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano, et al. Egoyan is good with the “tragedy drives families apart” narrative (minus perhaps Devil’s Knot) and Enos is typically good in the slightly-repressed-female-lead context. Ryan Reynolds as a father racked by guilt / other emotions could be a stretch — I don’t think anyone is completely sure of how good an actor Ryan Reynolds really is aside from his sheer beauty — but if you afford him the benefit of the doubt, it could be a solid film. Hell, Cannes thought so.

If you want some spoilers for the film, read this. There’s something about trees in there, for sure.

Among the 18 contenders for the Palme D’Or, three will be notable Canadian auteurs, including this from David Cronenberg (which seems to feature Robert Pattinson and Julianne Moore having doggy-style sex in a Buick):

Cannes should be interesting, at the very least.

Is anyone these days doing the trailer better than David Fincher-associated projects?

A trailer is probably 2:30 in length, give or take, but a good one is an art form, and a great one is amazing (and may have a positive affect on your revenue stream). Amazon Prime Video added a trailer function to its app on Roku, and I can’t tell you how many movies I’ve decided to watch (or summarily dismissed) via just that function alone. When I worked at ESPN, I always was in awe of the producers/editors/producer-editor combos that could make really cool-looking game teases (NBA, NFL, etc.), because those are essentially trailers, and, really guys, since I’m just blabbering now, it’s an art form.

I remember walking to the subway for work a few years ago and absently-minded flipping through stuff on my phone (because that’s how young, unaffected urbanites deal with their mornings) and finding this trailer and literally being awed:

“Goddamn,” I thought out loud, avoiding passing pedestrians. “Who the hell is that covering Radiohead?”

Turns out it’s actually this:

But the point is, that Social Network trailer was stunning. I doubt I’m alone here, since it has north of eight million views on YouTube. Then I thought about some of the other cool trailers I’ve seen in my life, including this one back in my adolescent years:

The voice-over in that one is a bit of a “whoa, this is from the 1990s” thing, but it tells an interesting story.

The two are tied together by what? Easy: David Fincher.

Here’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:

Here’s House of Cards, Season 1:

And here’s the new one for Gone Girl, which features a haunting cover of “She:”

These are all David Fincher-associated projects. His trailers are now legendary for their patented style:

At long last we have a glimpse of David Fincher’s latest film—Gone Girl, based onGillian Flynn’s best-selling novel—and it’s a masterclass in the Fincher trailer formula: take a famous song, commission a slightly counterintuitive cover, set it to scenes of gritty drama and mystery, and watch the masses soak it up in rapt attention.

Not all Fincher’s projects hit — The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo should have been much bigger than it was, and House of Cards Season 2 was generally considered uneven — but the trailers/teasers associated with his work are stunning. There’s limited consensus on “the greatest trailer of all-time,” although it may well be Alien (see below), but many do consider The Social Network to be up there.

This is all a shame, because Fincher just punted on a Steve Jobs biopic written by Aaron Sorkin — with, potentially, Christian Bale as Steve Jobs. (He likely would have been better than Ashton Kutcher was.) If Fincher and his team were able to do a trailer like the “Creep” one for a movie about Mark Zuckerberg, imagine the trailer for a potential Steve Jobs movie in the hands of Fincher. Alas, ’tis not to be.

I neglected to include the Fight Club trailer earlier, so there it is:

Fincher’s trailers evolved to the “counter-intuitive cover of a song over shots of action promising a mature, complex movie” idea only in the past half-decade or so, but his trailers before that were still interesting — although they tended to involve dialogue and one-off shots more than the underlying music.

Somehow, 20 years after “The Mask,” 2014 might be the year of Cameron Diaz

This could be the year of Shailene Woodley, or maybe in a looser way Miles Teller (or hell, maybe even Steve Carrell), but it’s doubtful anyone is going to be in as many mass-promoted movies in 2014 as Cameron Diaz. Consider Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

And Exhibit C:

That’s right. The Other Woman, then Sex Tape, and then Annie (at Christmas-time). You will see a lot of Cameron Diaz this year.

Brief thoughts?

The Other Woman looks funny; Leslie Mann is great. Kate Upton might be a weak link but ideally they mostly design that role to look pretty and have a few zingers. I find it impossible that the movie’s premise could basically insinuate that one guy has four separate lovers and three of them are Leslie Mann, Kate Upton and Cameron Diaz, but I guess money always has gone a long way in the pursuit of sexual fulfillment, now hasn’t it?

Sex Tape will likely be a horrible movie — the main joke tying it together is that no one understands “the cloud” — but Diaz and Jason Segel had good chemistry in Bad Teacher and can probably have it again, plus it looks like the cameos include everyone on the B-maybe-almost-A-comedy-circuit of current movie world. I’m sure there will be some good lines; I hope there are a ton that aren’t already in the trailers.

Annie will likely be very good. She’s a bad choice for the villain, in my humble opine, but Jamie Foxx is the man and it’s Jay-Z produced, and betting against Jay-Z in the modern era is like betting against Google. Plus, it comes out at Christmas. Even though the beginnings of that tale are full of woe, people will flock to it at Christmas.

But yea … 20 years later, now in her 40s, Cameron Diaz is still stealing screen time in the big rollout movies. She also believes “everyone will be cheated on,” so there’s that.

Adam McKay (Will Ferrell’s boy) and Brad Pitt are teaming up for a Michael Lewis financial crisis movie. Wait, what?

Remember Michael Lewis’ book The Big Short? It’s about the financial crash — here’s an excerpt — and received, as most Michael Lewis things do, positive reviews. (Insane thing No. 1 about Michael Lewis: how did he bag Tabitha Soren? Insane thing No. 2: ever watch a b-school professor interview on YouTube where they’re interviewed in front of their office bookcase? There’s always three Lewis titles. It’s amazing and almost never fails.) Well now, like most Lewis books are, The Big Short is becoming a movie, and … Adam McKay is going to direct it. (And write it.) Yep. The same guy behind Anchorman and Talladega Nights – the former head writer of Saturday Night Live and a long-time collaborating partner of Will Ferrell — will write and direct a dramatic movie about the financial crisis that originated as a Michael Lewis book. No hate for McKay here; part of an artist’s evolution is switching between genres. In fact, the producer on this movie — besides Paramount — will be Plan B Entertainment, which is Brad Pitt’s production company (talk about someone who evolved roles over his career, from “sexy teen” to “generally respected dramatic actor”). Plan B helped produce 12 Years A Slave (Oscar Best Picture), and other Lewis works have done well at the Academy Awards (The Blind Side), so this could line up really nicely for McKay, Pitt, Lewis and company (all of whom are likely millionaires several times over regardless).

Here’s the official statement from Pitt’s company:

“There are those rare literary treasures — as with The Big Short — that park in the harbor and you just wait, with hope,” Plan B said in a statement. “Adam McKay is a singular voice and talent and a ferocious mind. The vector of Adam and this book is what a producer dreams of.”

Amen. At the very least, it should be interesting. Think we could see Sacha Baron Cohen, who’s done some dramatic work but also was in Talladega Nights, in this thing? Or Pitt himself? Or would Will Ferrell want to do a little more drama? Hell, Steve Carrell is doing drama this year and that looks good, so maybe he’d want in.


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