Cheers to the Brokeback Mountain team — director Ang Lee, producer James Schamus and Focus Features — for having taken the Golden Lion (i.e., the best feature prize) at the just-wrapped Venice Film Festival. A BBC report claims that George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck “had been the hot favourite among film critics to take the Golden Lion,” but at least David Straitharn — Good Night‘s Edward R. Murrow — took the Best Actor prize, and Good Night‘s screenplay, by Clooney and Grant Heslov, was named best also. And…wow, this is a head-turner…director Abel Ferrara won the Jury Grand Prix for Mary, which stars Juliette Binoche as an actress haunted by the figure of Mary Magdalene after playing her in a film. (If the Best Actor prize had been my call, I would have said that as good and precise as Straitharn is, Heath Ledger’s performance in Brokeback Mountain is deeper and more fully realized.)
There’s apparently some concern at Sony/Columbia about Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha (Columbia, 12.9), a pricey period drama and a presumed Oscar contender (in the costume and production design categories, at least). The story is about how a young girl (Zhang Ziyi) “transcends” her fishing-village roots and becomes one of Japan’s most celebrated geishas. Research has apparently indicated that the exotic story elements (the film is set in Japan in the 1930s and ’40s) aren’t being understood and/or absorbed as clearly as Sony would like, so Cold Mountain director Anthony Minghella has been brought in to write some voice-over narration. Adding narration to a film isn’t an absolute guarantee that the movie isn’t telling its story well enough on its own terms, but let’s face it — it usually means trouble. Then again, it could mean that the test audiences who’ve seen it are perhaps a tad too provincial and could use a bit more schoolin’ about other cultures. I have to be honest and say I’ve never been very hot about seeing this film. I could go on and on, but tracking the intrigues of a Japanese hottie who makes her way up the ladder by providing sexual excitement for rich guys…I don’t know.
Some buyers told me yesterday about a couple of recently-arisen festival favorites. First and foremost is Ward Serrill’s The Heart of the Game, a doc about the development of a naturally talented female basketball player from Seattle over a six-year period. The festival program calls it a film about “girls, basketball and the evolving relationship of race and sports in the United States,” blah, blah. (It screens at 11:15 this morning at the Cumberland. Will Hollywood Elsewhere manage to attend or will the slow-motion rigors of posting a fresh column interfere once again, for the 349th time?) The other one to see is a film I ignored yesterday morning — Jason Reitman’s Thank You for Smoking, a satire about the tobacco industry. Providing a reportedly worthy follow-up to his heartless Chad in Neil Labute’s In The Company of Men, Aaron Eckhardt plays a smoothly manipulative spokesperson for the fictional Academy of Tobacco Studies. The program calls his character, whose name is Nick, “the most stunningly proficient poster boy America’s Big Tobacco industry could hope for: charming, virile, remorseless.” There’s a public screening happening in about 15 minutes (9:15 am), which….naah, no way. The next screening is on Saturday evening, 9.17, at 9:15 pm at the Riverson.
About halfway through a chat I had last night with documentarian Eugene Jarecki, director of Why We Fight (and the excellent The Trial of Henry Kissinger, which I saw here in Toronto in ’03), I asked if he’s given any thought to shooting a documentary about the ongoing Katrina disaster, which would naturally include the Bush administration’s sluggish response to the crisis. He said it would be an absolute natural, but that he’s focusing right now on promoting Why We Fight, etc. And then I went to Jeannette Walls’ column this morning and read that Michael Moore is said to be “seriously considering” making a Katrina doc himself. (Walls actually posted the item three days ago, on 9.8.) Moore’s rep didn’t offer comment about the speculation, but Moore has said a few things about Katrina on his website. “Hurricane Katrina came in and blew off the facade that we were a nation with liberty and justice for all,” he said in a posting that went up this morning. “The wind howled and the water rose and what was revealed was that the poor in America shall be left to suffer and die while the President of the United States fiddles and tells them to eat cake. That’s not a joke. The day the hurricane hit and the levees broke, Bush, John McCain and their rich pals were stuffing themselves with cake. A full day after the levees broke (the same levees whose repair funding he had cut), Bush was playing a guitar some country singer gave him. All this while New Orleans sank under water. It would take another day before the President would do a flyover in his jumbo jet, peeking out the widow at the misery 2500 feet below him as he flew back to his second home in D.C. It would then be TWO MORE DAYS before a trickle of federal aid and troops would arrive. This was no seven minutes in a sitting trance while children read ‘My Pet Goat’ to him. This was FOUR DAYS of doing nothing other than saying ‘Brownie (FEMA director Michael Brown), you’re doing a heck of a job!'”