“Go to the nearest Wal-Mart, line up 100 people and ask them whether they can relate to a man who owns eight houses and whose wife is a gazillionaire, or if they can relate to a man who represents the American melting pot — a man who just recently paid off his student loans — a man who was raised by a single mother — a man who is (shock horror!) still happily married to his only wife. Then tell us that Barack Obama is the more exotic or elitist of the two candidates.
“Irrespective of what white, upper-class Republicans or Mark Penn or Mark Halperin or Pat Buchanan might think, Senator Obama quite literally looks like 21st Century America. Mixed-culture, mixed-heritage, middle class roots. Senator Obama, in terms of his racial composition and family history, has more in common with average Americans than just about any modern Republican presidential nominee.
“The only way he’s not is if somehow we’ve been transported into an episode of Leave It To Beaver — or if by ‘America’ the Republicans and the barbecue media mean to suggest ‘Kentucky.’ Even with that as a qualification, half of Senator Obama’s racial composition is rooted in rural Kansas. His parents were divorced. He barely knew his biological father.” — from Mike Cesca‘s 8.13 HuffPost piece titled “The Exotic Candidate Is The One With Eight Houses.”
So much for ex-United Artists marketing guy Dennis Rice‘s contention that it’s better to release Valkyrie on 2.13.09 than in late ’08 because it’ll make more money that way. A half hour ago it was announced, almost concurrent with the news about United Artists CEO Paula Wagner being in talks to leave the company, that Valkyrie has been given a 12.26.08 release date, instead of the Feb. 13 date that was previously announced.
This is the fourth release date that Valkyrie has now had. There’s no reason for me to think, having read the script and knowing Bryan Singer to be a very strong and focused director, that there’s anything seriously wrong with Valkyrie, but the release-date shuffling has been incessant and the fumes coming off this thing are malignant at this point. MGM has literally been putting out smoke signals since last summer saying “troubled! whoopsy daisy! uh-oh!”
MGM needs to stop the hemmorhaging on this thing. HE is hereby repeating its suggestion to new MGM marketing guy Mike Vohlman to screen this sucker for a few choice columnists and long-leaders (including myself, of course) and let them spread the word.
Variety wrote that “sources close to events said the move was made for purely commercial reasons, after a screening of the film went well. The studio sees it as a holiday pic and award consideration was not a factor, they say.”
Variety is reporting that Tom Cruise‘s longtime partner Paula Wagner is in talks to abandon her CEO berth at United Artists, which she’s held since 11.2.06 when she and Cruise took hold of the UA reins, and despite her being a co-owner of UA with Cruise and MGM. Obviously there’s been friction and rancor and she’s leaving under some sort of duress, but what are the particulars?
I have calls out to a few people, but until some real answers come in I have to presume that the factors behind the sudden upheaval are (a) the general Titanic-like vibe at MGM/UA, (b) adverse relations between Wagner and MGM worldwide motion picture group chairperson Mary Parent, (c) the MGM suits allegedly not liking Wagner either, (d) Valkyrie, (e) the de facto actor’s strike slowing everything down and to some extent getting in the way of Cruise-Wagner greenlighting anything. This, at least, is how an agent friend summarized it a few minutes ago.
A rival studio chief didn’t have any fresh or hard information, but observed/speculated that “they’re imploding over there…they lost Jeff Kleeman, they lost Dennis Rice….there’s a lot of tension between [Wagner] and Harry Sloan and Tom and the whole thing….everybody’s second-guessing them in the press…there’s been a lot of in-fighting …it’s certainly not like Paramount, where they were treated like royality…and Paula’s got plenty of money and probably just threw up her hands and said, the hell with this, I don’t need it.”
Nikki Finke‘s report seems to have a good handle on the situation. Sample graph: “The behind-the-scenes rupture of any reasonable relationship between UA and MGM really became evident this week. That’s because no one outside of those two companies knew that Wagner’s inability to pull the trigger on projects is now threatening to kill part of the $500 million financing from Merrill Lynch. I’m told specified start dates and release dates haven’t been met, so UA could lose a goodly portion of that credit line. The only solution is now for MGM to step in and immediately greenlight two UA motion pictures by the trigger dates. But Wagner’s camp is trying to spin this as MGM usurping UA’s independent authority so that MGM boss Harry Sloan can finally get his hands on UA’s money since he hasn’t been able to score financing of his own.”
Wagner and Cruise have been producing partners since ’93 and now, unless I’m misreading or misunderstanding, they’re technically parting company as well.
Wagner “will produce projects under her independent shingle,” the Variety story says, and also with UA, working with Cruise and MGM on various films she has already developed, including Guillermo del Toro‘s film version of the British TV adventure series Champions, among others.
Cruise and Wagner formed Cruise/Wagner Productions in 1993. They made Vanilla Sky, The Last Samurai, War of the Worlds, the Mission: Impossible series, Without Limits, The Others, Narc, Ask the Dust and Elizabethtown.
A New York-based publicist wrote with the usual questions about my planned activities at the Toronto Film Festival. I said I’ll seeing and doing everything I can for 18 hours daily for nine or ten days, Wednesday, 9.3 to Friday, 9.12. “Big essential screenings aside, I tend to improvise and shuffle around as the mood directs,” I said. “I absorb every film, every event and every person I meet. I take pictures, I record interviews, I shoot video, I review films, I report reactions, I eat free food at parties and sip the free white wine,” blah, blah. As ever.
The subject turned the other day to movies that were barely seen when initially released, and will almost certainly never be seen by anyone on DVD and therefore never remembered by anyone, ever. Dead, buried, finito. And I came up with one — Saul Swimmer‘s The Black Pearl (1978), which you can’t find on VHS and never was issued on DVD.
It starred Gilbert Roland, Carl Anderson and Mario Custodio , and was basically about a hunt for a large black pearl located off the Baja California coast. The money scene was about the young hero having to grapple with a giant manta ray that guards the treasure.
The reason I remember The Black Pearl is not because I liked it all that much. It’s because I was close with a lady who lived on West 13th Street named Elaine who told me something about a certain producer of The Black Pearl — he was young so maybe he was just an associate producer — that has always stayed in my mind. And only now, nearly 30 years after the fact, can the story finally be told.
Elaine and I were boyfriend-girlfriend for as little less than a year, sometime between mid ’78 and early to mid ’79. We remained semi-friendly after we broke up, and she told me one night that she was going out with a guy named something Harris, who’d produced or co-produced The Black Pearl. I’d seen her having a drink with him at the Village Bistro — nice looking, dark hair, nice sweater — and asked her a day or two later if he was a nice guy and she said yes, etc.
And then somehow I managed to get her to tell me how their first night of amour had gone, and she told me that they’d hardly slept at all due to his having made love to her eight times from midnight to the crack of dawn. Wow, I said, and let it go at that. And yet deep down I was impressed. A night of typical grand passion might include three or four go-rounds, but eight? Harris was either very athletic or very full of feeling, or a combination of the two.
The take-away thing is that Elaine got a little bit angry with me the next time we spoke because — I was actually being respectful in a roundabout way — I referred to the Black Pearl producer as “Eight Times Harris.” She was actually more like half-pissed and half-laughing. But that “Eight Times Harris” remark is the reason I still remember The Black Pearl.
And now there are a few more in the world who will forever remember this film. Right? If I hadn’t written this The Black Pearl would be the same dead movie it’s been for the last 28 or 29 years, but now there’s something to remember it by. Am I right or wrong?
A friend asked me to suggest a nice PG-rated disco movie for her daughter’s 10th birthday party because (a) her daughter likes disco and (b) Saturday Night Fever is rated R and considered too adult by some of the parents of the girls coming to the party. I sent her an A.V. Club posting with with a piece called “Six Films That Helped Kill Disco,” and then I added the following:
“Disco is bad for the soul — then, now, forever. You’re fine with [your daughter] and her friends revelling in the most soul-less and mechanistic mainstream music ever created in the history of civilization, but you want to shield her from semi-adult content at all costs. You’re basically telling her, ‘Empty plastic entertainment is fine, but anything that smacks of artful depictions of actual reality…well, that may not be appropriate.’
“My boys were into the worst TV garbage imaginable when they were 9 and 10 and 11 years old, but I always told them they were polluting their brains with that stuff and tried to get them to sample good movies every so often. And they finally grew out of their garbage phase. [Your daughter] is in a girlie-synthetic phase now. That’s what being ten is about (i.e., early tweener) but you’re doing her no favors by facilitating a disco party.
“My basic point is that there are things that are far, far worse than honest ‘adult content,’ and disco music is certainly one of them.”
While writing this I was playing the Who’s Sister Disco in my head.
The final list of Toronto titles will be announced six days from now — on Tuesday, August 19th — so today’s list of Special Presentations is not the be-all and end-all. The word from one Toronto insider is that TIFF is cutting down on the overall number of films being shown, which last year was around 300. Variety and others have complained that Toronto is a crap-shoot because they show too many films, so they’re trimming the tally back to 280, give or take. But a whole lot of titles are going to be announced next Tuesday.
Darren Aronofsky‘s The Wrestler will make it there in addition to its NY Film Festival showing. My facial-trauma Mickey Rourke moment is definitely coming and I’d better toughen up and get ready for it. And Steven Soderbergh‘s slightly shortened Che (4 hours and 5 minutes, give or take) will be presented as a single entity with a 15-minute intermission as well as two separate films — they were once called The Argentine and Guerilla but who knows what the current thinking may be? — being shown at different times.
Clint Eastwood√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s Changeling will be the centerpiece of the New York Film Festival, but Angelina Jolie wouldn’t commit to attending so forget Toronto.
Other top-tittie titles include Kevin Smith‘s Zack and Miri Make a Porno with Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks; Guillermo Arriaga‘s The Burning Plain with Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger; Barbet Schroder‘s Inju; and Charlie Kaufman‘s smartly written but deeply morose and deterioration-obsessed Synecdoche, New York.
Other highlights of today’s announcement include Rian Johnson‘s The Brothers Bloom with Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi, Maximilian Schell and Robbie Coltrane; Stephan Elliott‘s Easy Virtue with Colin Firth, Jessica Biel, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Barnes; Christophe Barratier‘s Faubourg 36, Michael Winterbottom‘s Genova with Colin Firth, Catherine Keener and Hope Davis.
As well as John Crowley‘s Is There Anybody There? with Bill Milner and Michael Caine; Bruno Barreto‘s Last Stop 174; Stephen Belber‘s Management with Jennifer Aniston, Steve Zahn and Woody Harrelson; Richard Linklater‘s Me and Orson Welles with Zac Efron, Claire Daines, Ben Chaplin and Christian McKay; Danny Boyle‘s Slumdog Millionaire; Marc Abraham‘s Flash of Genius with Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney and Alan Alda.
On a scale of 1 to 10, the slime factor is….? I would have thought the McCain team would refrain from using “the One” now that it’s been officially outed as a racial…uhm, actually, I mean evangelical code term by David Gergen. Obviously they don’t care.
Summer blockbuster fatigue is so last month. As I noted a week or so ago, if you’re a journalist in the swing of screenings of new films, it’s basically the fall now. It’s after Labor Day, jacket weather, the Toronto Film Festival starting and fall foliage is just around the corner in Vermont. The Dumb Season is over and done with so why run a groan piece now?
“Why has the summer of 2008 seemed exhausting in a way previous summers haven’t?,” asks Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek. “The summer-movie season, which used to begin in June and would be finished by the last week of July, after the release of all the big ‘event’ movies, now begins in early May and is beginning to creep well into August — the movie equivalent of the endless presidential election season.”
“This year, it kicked off with one whimper (Speed Racer) and also with one bang (Iron Man). But the movies of summer 2008 seemed to become bigger, noisier, more ambitious and more expensive with each passing week. By the time The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor limped into theaters on Aug. 1st, trailing lots of sand and dead skin behind it, audiences could be forgiven for feeling fatigued.”
Dane Cook deserves points for fearlessly ripping into Lionsgate’s My Best Friend’s Girl poster on his MySpace page, and for being funny in the bargain. “Although I’m not a marketing major, I have a bit of a trusted reputation after 18 years [of] self promoting,” he begins. “I’d like to inform you I had no say in this marketing campaign, but if I did, things would be different since it is obvious that this poster is boring / odd and has zero to do with the movie I performed in.
“Here are a few things that truly blow about my upcoming movie poster to promote the release of the film opening on September 19th:
“1. Graphics: Whoever photoshopped our poster must have done so at taser point with 3 minutes to fulfill their hostage takers’ deranged obligations. They should have called Donnie Hoyle and had him give a tutorial using ‘You Suck at Photoshop’ templates. This is so glossy it makes Entertainment Weekly look wooden.
“2. My head: The left side of my face seems to be melting off of my skull. I guess I am looking directly into the Ark of the Covenant? Are they going for the bells palsy thing here? My left side looks like Brittany [sic] Spears’ vagina. [It’s spelled Britney.]
“3. The Stare: My character apparently has fallen in love with a strand of Kate Hudson‘s hair. Kate’s mannequin is desperately in love with the inside of my right ear while Jason Biggs is half stunned, half corsage.
“4. Lips: It looks like I’m wearing Maybelline Water Shine Diamonds Liquid Lipstick. My character’s name is now Winter Solstice and I’m a hooker with a heart of gold. Jason is my floral carrying pimp, while Kate is my first trick!
“5. Fashion: My character is sporting a very high collar. I mean, damn they should be snow capped at that altitude. It’s going for the vampire lurking in the castle basement vibe. An Olympic pole vaulter would have a tough go clearing that collar. I’m also able to turn my head comfortably 180 degrees, because I was raised in an abandoned barn by a family of owls.”