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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Milla Jovovich: Verhoeven's Russian Queen of Crime


Milla Jovovich and Wes Bentley in The Claim (2000): Thomas Hardy in the Old West
Jeremy Kay of Screen International, reporting from Berlin, has news that’s sure to make fanguys brains completely explode.
Paul Verhoeven (BLACK BOOK) is ramping up production on his long-gestating tsarist
Russian crime romp The Winter Queen, now called Azazel. Shooting is set to begin this summer in St Petersberg and London after Peter Hoffman’s Los Angeles-based Seven Arts Pictures finalised
pay-or-play deals for Verhoeven and Milla Jovovich (RESIDENT EVIL). Jovovich’s official website, MillaJ.com, has more information on the author, the novel and its sequels. (Via MillaJ, here’s the review of The Winter Queen from the New York Times)
Kay reports that Verhoeven’s long-time co-screenwriter Gerard Soeteman, who co-wrote BLACK BOOK, adapted the screenplay for the forthcoming film from the Russian novel “The Winter Queen,” by Boris Akuninn. The story is set in the late 1800s in St. Petersburg and London, and the main characters, according to Verhoeven, are a “charming…diabolical and seductive woman” and a “handsome, gifted and very lucky young detective.”
[Shoutout to Hollywood Bitchslap‘s Peter Sobcynski: it’s like they reached into your mind and created a film just for you, isn’t it?]
And before anyone gets snotty about Jovovich, the sci fi/horror/action heroine, making like Christian Bale and carrying a historical suspense film — recall that she did, not all that long ago, give an impressive performance in THE CLAIM, Michael Winterbottom’s take on The Mayor of Casterbridge, set in the late 1800s in the American West. (Frank Cottrell Boyce adapted Thomas Hardy’s novel)
Not only did Jovovich hold her own opposite critic’s darlings/character actors Peter Mullan, Nastassja Kinski and Sarah Polley, she did right by her character — a saloon and brothel keeper — in a way the author could never have foreseen– giving her a resilience and dignity even beyond what was written in Cottrell Boyce’s thoughtful screenplay.

Hardy’s Lucetta–the worried widow who waits in vain for the Mayor’s affection-was depicted as more of an impediment than a person, a pain in the neck who’s dispatched (supposedly by Fate but really by the author) In the novel, Lucetta goes down to a well-timed seizure. In The Claim, Jovovich’s character, Lucia, is more of an economic climber than a social one: More than a few critics noted her resemblance to Julie Christie and the film’s to McCABE AND MRS. MILLER–People like Peter Mullan’s hero had the vision for the American West, but it was people like Lucia who rode out the storms and made it work.-When The Claim’s long-foreshadowed avalanche comes, it’s no surprise that she’s the last woman standing.
Here’s what Charles Taylor, writing in Salon in April 2001, said about Jovovich:

The cast works as an ensemble, though I have to confess to being especially impressed by Milla Jovovich’s performance. Everything about Jovovich is eccentric, from her looks (can be there such a thing as birdlike ripeness?) to the emotionalism of her singing (which I find riveting), to the way she has Lucia employ her very presence as if it were a vague challenge to whoever she encounters. Jovovich has a unique blend of flintiness and vulnerability, and sudden startling reserves of strength — like the deep, cold register she uses with Dillon (Peter Mullan) when he abruptly leaves her.

Some more reviews, if I haven’t convinced you to seek out THE CLAIM on DVD.
Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert.
Salon, Charles Taylor, Salon.
And from Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, remarks on the Film Comment Selects film series BLACK BOOK screens Feb. 27, and the director will do a Q&A afterward.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon