Although there was a good amount of celebration over 4th of July weekend, it ended with the tragic note that legendary filmmaker Richard Donner had passed away at the age of 91 with no cause of death reported.
Donner’s amazing career began directing television shows like Gilligan’s Island and The Twilight Zone, throughout the ’60s and ’70s, but one of his earlier forays into film with the 1976 horror film, The Omen, was hugely influential on the genre, as was his 1978 superhero movie, Superman, starring the late Christopher Reeve.
Donner directed the similarly influential 1985 kids adventure movie, The Goonies, and two years later, Donner’s Lethal Weapon franchise, teaming Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, helped define the “buddy cop” genre. It led to three sequels in 1989, 1992, and 1998. Donner’s 21st century film output was scarce, only directing 2003’s Timeline and the Bruce Willis action film, 16 Blocks. He was also involved as an executive producer in the 2000 X-Men and the prequel, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman.
Many filmmakers shared their thoughts on the filmmaker’s contribution to cinema on social media, but the most touching tributes came from the people who worked directly with Donner who praised not only his film work but also his humanitarian activities.
The director’s wife, producer Lauren Shuler Donner, said to Deadline‘s Pete Hammond:
“He was a great man. I was a very very lucky woman. But he was very sick, so it was time for him to go. The love for him coming out is amazing. That’s who he was, Pete. He was larger than life and fun and generous, and everybody who knew him loved him, absolutely loved him. I have so many emails and texts — I will never be able to get through them. The outpouring of love. The good news is all this love came out when he was alive, just his attitude and his joie de vivre.”
“I have this philosophy,” she continued. “I believe that the director’s personality is on the screen. Dick was a big, larger-than-life, generous, happy guy who just wouldn’t get bogged down in anything petty, wouldn’t get bogged down in competition, he was just always personable. If he couldn’t remember your name, he’d call you ‘kid.’ Everybody would say later on, ‘Oh he had a nickname for me. He called me kid,’ but he always made you feel you were very special.”
Gibson also made a statement:
“Donner! My friend, my mentor. Oh, the things I learned from him! He undercut his own talent and greatness with a huge chunk of humility referring to himself as ‘merely a traffic cop.’ He left his ego at the door and required that of others. He was magnanimous of heart and soul, which he liberally gave to all who knew him. If we piled up all the good deeds he did, it would stretch to some uncharted place in the firmament. I will sorely miss him, with all his mischievous wit and wisdom.”
That sentiment was mirrored by Gibson’s Lethal Weapon colleague and foil Glover:
“My heart is broken. Working with Dick Donner, Mel Gibson and the Lethal Weapon Team was one of the proudest moments of my career. I will forever be grateful to him for that Dick genuinely cared about me, my life and my family. We were friends and loved each other far beyond collaborating for the screen and the success that the Lethal Weapon franchise brought us. I will so greatly miss him.”
Hugh Jackman, another Aussie who partially owes his career to Donner, said on Instagram:
‘Today we lost one of our most talented, courageous, cheeky, funny, loyal directors to have ever made movies. Richard Donner, your movies, stories, your laugh will always be in our hearts. Lauren, we send all our love to you and the whole family and the hundreds of dogs he rescued.”
The Goonies star Sean Astin said:
“Richard Donner had the biggest, boomiest voice you could imagine. He commanded attention, and he laughed like no man has ever laughed before. Dick was so much fun. What I perceived in him, as a 12 year old kid, is that he cared. I love how much he cared.”
Fellow filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who co-wrote and exec. produced The Goonies, called Donner “the greatest Goonie of all” in a statement to Variety:
“Dick had such a powerful command of his movies, and was so gifted across so many genres. Being in his circle was akin to hanging out with your favorite coach, smartest professor, fiercest motivator, most endearing friend, staunchest ally, and — of course — the greatest Goonie of all. He was all kid. All heart. All the time. I can’t believe he’s gone, but his husky, hearty laugh will stay with me always.”
The number of tributes that permeated social media since the announcement of Donner’s death are too many to fully recount, but it was obvious that the man was loved not only by those who knew and worked with him, but the entire world of entertainment at large.
Here’s one particularly moving tribute thread from filmmaker Edgar Wright:
Richard Donner's big heart & effervescent charm shone in his movies through the remarkable performances of his cast, which is no mean feat. You remember all the characters in Superman, Lethal Weapon, The Goonies & more, because Donner knew how to capture that magic onscreen. 1/3 pic.twitter.com/7NDH9kKnQZ
— edgarwright (@edgarwright) July 5, 2021
Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino continues to support the world of theatrical film projection by buying Los Angeles’ The Vista Theatre in Los Feliz, adding to his theatrical portfolio that includes the New Beverly Cinema. Tarantino announced the purchase on Dax Shepard‘s Armchair Expert podcast, after saying that some of the movie chains that shut down due to the COVID pandemic “deserved to go.”
“I never like any theater closing, but some of these exhibitors that are going, they f*cking deserve to go. They’ve taken all the specialness out of movies anyway, some of these chains.”
He went on to say that boutique cinemas should continue to thrive before announcing his purchase:
“When we opened up the New Beverly about two weeks ago, in June, we sold out every single show. And I’ll announce one thing here that people don’t know yet: I bought the Vista. We’re going to probably open it up around Christmastime. And again, only film.”
“But it won’t be a revival house — we’ll show new movies that come out where they give us a film print, we’ll show new stuff. It’s not going to be like the New Beverly, the New Beverly has its own vibe. The Vista is like a crown jewel kind of thing. So it will be the best prints, we’ll show older films, but they’ll be like older films where you can hold a fortnight engagement.”
Ironically, Tarantino’s “New Bev” will be one of the only theaters that gets a 35mm print of Netflix‘s upcoming action-thriller, Gunpowder Milkshake, and will give it a limited release starting on July 14.
Just as the weekend was starting, it was reported that HBO‘s Lovecraft Country wouldn’t be getting a second season, although maybe that wasn’t a surprise to those who presumed Mischa Green‘s creation was always meant as a limited series. Apparently, she had been quoted as saying that she had some thoughts on a second season, and she took to Twitter to share one of the ideas she had planned to continue the series. Maybe it would have been too costly to do it with the added expense of COVID protocols. Who knows, but maybe HBO will change its mind if Lovecraft Country places well in next week’s Emmy nominations. I mean, it’s happened before.
Another recently cancelled series, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, also received some news that normally would be troubling but actually offers fans of the series some hope. NBC released the entire cast, including star Jane Levy, from their contracts, allowing the show to pursue a new life at another network or streamer. Zoey Clarke’s story may be continued in a new series, a mini-series or even a movie, but there are far more options now that NBC has allowed its cast and creators to explore those possibilities.
Not too much else in terms of development or casting news even with the Cannes Film Festival beginning in earnest today, but it was reported that The Flight Attendant star Kaley Cuoco is in talks to star and produce the Studiocanal and The Picture Company high-concept action-thriller, Role Play. The project is based on a screenplay written by Seth Owen (Morgan), which follows a young married couple whose life turns upside down after secrets are revealed about each other’s past. Plans are to start production in 2022 after Cuoco finishes filming the 2nd season of The Flight Attendant.
The Picture Company partners Alex Heineman and Andrew Rona are producing the film under their deal with Studiocanal. Brillstein Entertainment Partners’ George Heller, who reps Owen and came up with the original idea, will serve as executive producer, while Cuoco will producer under her own Yes Norman Productions.
On Friday, Netflix released Fear Street Part 1: 1994 onto the streaming service, and yesterday, the streamer released the first trailer for Fear Street Part 2: 1978, which continues the story based on the popular R.L. Stine series of books. Part 2 debuts on Friday, followed on July 16 by the third and final movie, Fear Street Part 3: 1966.
Just a reminder that there will be no “Hump Day News Update” tomorrow due to the shortened week, but we’ll be back on Friday with this week’s “End of Week Production Notes,” wrapping up any industry news from the week.