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‘Films not necessarily more depressing now than ’70s’ Pacino does double duty at Venice

VENICE, Italy, Aug 31, (Agencies): Al Pacino made two trips up the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday, with a pair of movies about aging, regret, giving up and letting go. But fear not — the actor says he’s not about to lower the curtain on his own career. Pacino plays a small-town Texas locksmith with a key for everything except his own unhappiness in David Gordon Green’s “Manglehorn,” one of 20 films competing for the festival’s Golden Lion prize. And he’s an aging actor who has lost his mojo, and his grip on reality, in Barry Levinson’s “The Humbling,” screening out-of-competition at the festival.

In both films, the 74-year-old actor looks a wreck — shambling, disheveled and drawn. But speaking to journalists before Saturday’s dual premieres he was black-clad, sharply coiffed and sporting ice-blue mirrored sunglasses — every bit the movie star. He said he could relate to his “Humbling” character’s desire to pack in the rigors of acting — but hadn’t lost his own appetite for the job.

“I feel very lucky, I have to say,” Pacino said. “When I think of my life and my background, where I came from — like all of us I had issues as a youngster and had to overcome things, and I found something in life that I love to do. “I’ve been riding it a long time and so far the plane is not landing yet.
“I don’t like that metaphor,” he admonished himself, “but it’s all I’ve got right now.” Four decades after he burst to fame as the wiry young star of “The Panic in Needle Park” and “The Godfather,” Pacino pours his skill and soul into these two meaty autumn-years parts. The title character of “Manglehorn” is an emotionally stunted grump who sends countless letters to a long-lost love, all of which come back marked “return to sender.” He reserves his affection for his granddaughter and his cat, rebuffing tentative romantic overtures from a sweet-natured bank teller (Holly Hunter). “This is a man who has trouble letting go of something, basically, and it leads him to a very strange and closed life,” Pacino said.
“He finally learns he has to let that go.” In “The Humbling,” waning actor Simon Axler rattles around his half-empty mansion like a Connecticut King Lear, pinning his misguided hopes of love and redemption on a much younger woman, played by Greta Gerwig. Pacino said he was drawn to a character “going through this tragic fall” and struck by the story’s juxtaposition of comedy and darkness. “He’s a person who feels that he had a life filled with missed opportunities,” Pacino said. “He’s getting older and the feelings he has for his work are dissipating or becoming less available to him.”
He said that any actor could relate to the film, which explores the way the demands of performing, the distractions of drinking and drugs and the pressures of fame “intellectually and emotionally get you to stray somewhat.” In “The Humbling,” Axler must choose between Shakespeare — “King Lear,” naturally — and a commercial for a hair-loss cure. Pacino said it wasn’t an art-or-money choice he’d ever had to make. He’s done few commercials, and relatively few big Hollywood movies. He prefers to work with directors he knows and respects, like veteran Levinson (“Diner, “Rain Man”) or Green, whose work ranges from stoner comedy “Pineapple Express” to tough Nicholas Cage drama “Joe.” “I don’t know, and I never did know, what Hollywood was,” Pacino said.
“I’m not an expert. I never went there as a young actor. I did movies with (Sidney) Lumet out of New York, with (Francis Ford) Coppola. My association with (Hollywood) was not unfriendly, it just wasn’t really clear. And it still isn’t.” But that’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy its products. “They do some great stuff, great films,” Pacino said. “I just saw — ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ is it, a Marvel thing? It was amazing. I saw it with my young children. I must say, I wouldn’t have gone naturally. “(It was) entertaining, inventive, beautiful, full of rich stuff. So I’m not anti-that at all.” Pacino fended off suggestions on Saturday that because he plays depressed characters in two movies shown at the Venice Film Festival he must have a special affinity for such roles.
Since the characters he plays are anti-social and prickly, Pacino was peppered with questions about whether he draws on personal experience to play people who suffer from depression. “I don’t see how I could not be depressed some of the time but I don’t know about it,” he said. “How does it go? You say ‘I’m depressed’ but life is sort of all over us. I mean, things make you sad...basically you’d like to be a bit happier sometime but depressed seems so ominous and it’s really in all of us,” Pacino said. Asked if he thought films in general were more depressing now than they were in the 1970s when he played Michael Corleone, the crime boss in “The Godfather” movies, Pacino said:
“I don’t know that films are more depressing now, I don’t know, but I think that in my earlier films I have to say that in ‘Godfather Two’ I would imagine that Michael Corleone was depressed.” Pacino also said he’d never been a Hollywood actor in the traditional sense, but that did not mean he was critical of it. In an Internet review, The Hollywood Reporter trade publication said “Manglehorn” suffered from a “ham-fisted script, which painstakingly spells out every metaphor, whether it’s spoken or visual”.
Pacino may be one of the greatest actors of all time, but he confessed Saturday that he was helped in his latest films by performing alongside a cat and throwing his acting skills out of the window. The 74-year-old plays an ageing locksmith unable to get over the lost love of his life, who shuts himself off from the world, has a frustrated relationship with his wealthy son and whose only real friend is his cat. “I was trying to be tender. The cat is a wonderful construct, it helps shape my character, it sheds light on who he is and his relationship to the world,” the Oscar-winner said. “I have both cats and dogs and love animals, maybe that’s what came through in the film,” he said.
Top major territory distribs count among pre-sales struck by Millennium on Levinson’s Al Pacino-starrer “The Humbling.” France’s Metropolitan Film Export, Italy’s Ambi, Lionsgate UK, AOne Films for the CIS and Latin America’s California Filmes are among the territories snapping up the film. ICM Partners handles US rights; Canadian distributor is VVS Films. “The Humbling,” based on Roth’s novel, was made on a highly contained budget precisely to avoid dependence on pre-sales and market pressures, Levinson said during an interview at at Venice’s Hotel Cipriani.
It certainly does pack a high-profile and eclectic cast, led by Pacino and Greta Gerwig, and featuring, among just femme thesps, Kyra Sedgwick, Dianne Wiest, Nina Arianda, Mary Louise Wilson. “This is the most home-made movie in the festival,” Levinson said proudly. That should be taken literally. “Humbling” was shot at Levinson’s home in Connecticut, guerrilla-style. “We would shoot five days, shut down, shoot another eight. The whole shoot was only 20 days. We asked: ‘What do we have to do just to make the movie we want to make?’”
Andrea Iervolino and Monika Bacardi’s Ambi Pictures, at Venice as co-producers of Barry Levinson’s Al Pacino-starrer “The Humbling,” are venturing into animation with “Arctic Justice Thunder Squad.” The ecology-themed 3D English-language family film is helmed by Canada’s Matthew Lyon in his homeland. “This movie will be Pixar or Disney quality,” said Iervolino who has set up an animation studio in Toronto. “The team behind this film are all top-notch animators.”
The budget for “Arctic Justice,” which will be ready in 18 months, is being kept under wraps. But Iervolino said it was bigger than any previous Italian toon. Ambi is producing with financing from private investors.
“It’s our first big-budget, CGI animation film that will come from our studio in Toronto, which is a factory of young creatives,” said Iervolino. The tale turns on a sinister walrus who plots to accelerate global warming and melt the Arctic Circle. A rag-tag group of inexperienced heroes, led by a fox, must come together to foil his nefarious plan and save the Arctic.

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