Studio executives who’ve said nothing about Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic remarks “are clearly not the bravest people in the world,” producer Howard Rosenman has told L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein. “They don’t want to alienate Mel or [Gibson agent] Ed Limato, one of the most powerful agents in town. They’re all thinking, what happens if he comes out of this and I’ve said something? He won’t work with me when I need him.”
It’s intriguing about Hugh Jackman and Fox 2000 planning to make another film version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, with Jackman producing (with partner John Palermo) as well as playing the lead, Billy Bigelow. The original 1956 film version, directed by Henry King and starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, is kind of cornball but it has some great songs and a devastating final 20 minutes. Every time I watch it, I melt.
Bigelow is a Maine carnival barker and an ignorant thug who’s managed to charm and marry a local girl named Julie. Too proud to knuckle down and find a job, Bigelow is determined to make money when he learns Julie is pregnant. This leads to his falling on his knife and dying during a botched robbery. Stuck for 16 years in celestial purgatory, Bigelow is given a chance one day by the “manager” to return to earth and try and help out his daughter, who has a lot of the same attitude problems he had when alive. Bigelow’s initial efforts to provide guidance are crude and pathetic, but things finally kick in and his daughter seems to somehow hear him at the finale.
Based on Ferenc Molnar’s “Liliom”, Carousel is the only Rodgers & Hammerstein musical that gets me because the dark tragic story balances the overly jubilant emotionality of their music. And that strange celestial plot line — a story of a loser who manages to show love and get his act together and help his child only after he’s dead — is affecting in some kind of deep-down way that I’ve never fully understood.
Jackman sang the Billy part in a 2002 Carnegie Hall concert to honor Rodgers & Hammerstein. He’ll have to be better than the hammy Macrae was in the older film. Frank Sinatra was initially signed to play Bigelow in the ’56 Carousel and went before the cameras for a couple days but abriuptly left the shoot when he realized he’d have to perform each scene twice — once for 35mm CinemaScope cameras, once for 70mm Todd AO cameras (i.e., the way Fred Zinneman’s Oklahoma was shot). And yet when MacRae was brought on to replace Sinatra, Carousel was filmed only in 35mm.
Sinatra’s cocky-Hoboken-thug personality would have probably made for a perfect Bigelow. He recorded most of his “Carousel” songs in the studio before shooting, and here’s his version of the famous “Soliloquy” number — the one with Bigelow dreaming and fretting about his unborn child.
O’Toole Scores Again?
As everyone presumably knows, Miramax has swapped the release dates of Stephen Frears‘ The Queen, a drama about Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) grappling with the death of Lady Diana, and Roger Michell’s Venus, based on a script by Hanif Kureishi about septugenarian sex, romance and parenting. Queen was advanced up to 10.6, and Venus was pushed back to 12.15. The motive was to put Venus into a better position for an Oscar campaign, but not necessarily for the film itself.
The main beneficiary of the Venus campaign is going to be Peter O’Toole, who reportedly plays the lead role — a randy, very straight 70ish actor named Maurice — with exceptional gusto, tenderness and O’Toolean panache.
Peter O’Toole in two cruddy-looking stills from Roger Michell’s Venus (Miramax, 12.15)
However good O’Toole turns out to be, there’s a great comeback story to be told if and when he goes on the promotion trail.
A story about a great and colorful actor, 73, being back in the saddle with a good role after years of wandering in the desert. About his flamboyant past as one of the big-time acting kings of the early to mid ’60s (Lawrence of Arabia, Becket), and as one of the great party animals of that era. About going flat in the ’70s and then briefly resurging in the early ’80s with plum roles in Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man and Richard Benjamin’s My Favorite Year…before going flat again. About the legend who came close to refusing an honorary gold-watch award from the Academy’ in 2003 because he didn’t want to be thought of as over-the-hill, and then got lucky right after this and nabbed a juicy part and hit a home run with it.
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Or so I’ve heard and read. You never know and you can’t trust anyone.
A certain Dart Group publicist in the employ of Miramax has been pushing O’Toole’s Venus work, yes, but I came across some pretty encouraging stuff on my own last May from some IMDB posters who claimed they’d seen Venus at a Convent Garden screening in very late April and then at a Manhattan screening three or four days later.
These postings inspired me to call Charles McDonald of the London p.r. firm McDonald + Rutter just before leaving for Cannes. I was hoping to get information about any Cannes market screenings of Venus, but McDonald said he didn’t know of any.
O’Toole in Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy
There are no prints of Venus in the States, I’m told, so maybe Michell and Kureishi have been adding or refining. It would be great to catch it in Toronto, but who knows?
The Venus log line reads, “Life for a pair of veteran actors gets turned upside down after they meet a brash teenaged girl.” Leslie Phillips, Jodie Whittaker (the young and the brash), Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Griffiths costar. The word on the film last spring is that it was good or pretty good (as in “good beginning and middle, so-so ending”). But the word on O’Toole was something else.
After seeing Venus at the Convent Garden showing, a Scottish-sounding guy named Phil Concannon wrote on 4.29 that “the real attraction [of the film] is the chance to see Peter O’Toole in a leading role once again, and he is very good indeed. He’s funny and touching, and occasionally uncomfortably lecherous, and it’s terrific to see him getting a role he can really sink his teeth into. There’s one scene in which O’Toole recites Shakespeare’s ‘Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?’, and his sheer charisma, along with that great voice, makes the scene breathtaking.”
You know what would help the O’Toole campaign, assuming he’s as good in Venus as everyone says? If that low-life, ass-dragging video company MPI Home Video would finally get it together and put out that restored Becket DVD they’ve been holding onto and embarassing themselves by not releasing for the last couple of years.
O’Toole in the opening moments of Peter Glenville’s Becket
If this Becket DVD were to hit the market in the mid-fall, say, people would obviously be reminded what a great performance O’Toole gave as Henry II (he should have won the 1964 Best Actor Oscar but Rex Harrison took it for My Fair Lady), and the general awareness about O’Toole having been a world-class actor for the last 45 years would be that much higher.
O’Toole’s Becket performance “is one of the most exciting ever seen in a main- stream movie,” I wrote early this year. “O’Toole takes your breath away half the time, and the other half he makes you grin with delight.”
O’Toole recorded a narration track for MPI in the fall of ’03 that lasts throughout the 149-minute film, and, according to MPI Home Video’s Gregg Newman, is quite entertaining to listen to. If I were a Miramax marketing exec I would contact MPI and ask them what the hold-up is and, you know, can Miramax help in some way?
Becket addendum: I didn’t even call the MPI Home Video people Wednesday about the Becket DVD situation. MPI reps have flown their colors with baldly disengenuous statements about their release plans for this DVD in the past, always saying they intend to have it out “later this year” or “soon” and never living up to these pledges. That said, an MPI spokesperson named Christie Hester ( I spoke to her during the writing of one of my previous Becket DVD articles) posted a message on an IMDB board on 5.30.06 that said “MPI Home Video intends to release Becket on DVD during the first quarter of 2007.”
Obviously, any prepared statement about a forthcoming company initiative that contains the word “intends” is not to be trusted. Hester was obviously qualifying in case things don’t pan out. (Trust me, Warner Home Video has never announced it “intends” to release anything — their p.r. releases always say flatly and unambiguously that WHV will release this or that title on this or that date, and no monkeying around .) Then again Hester’s “first quarter of 2007” is a more date-specific pledge than anything ever stated by any MPI Home Video exec about their Becket plans, so maybe the DVD will come out sometime before 12.31.07. Maybe.
Mel Gibson “has been a very bad goy,” author and New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier has told N.Y. Times columnist Maureen Dowd. “It is really rich to behold Gibson asking Jews to behave like Christians. Has he forgotten how bellicose and wrathful and unforgiving we are? Why would a people who start all the wars make a peace? I have always wondered why people who believe that we control the world do not have more respect for us. Take that cop who arrested Gibson. Do you think it was a coincidence that he was a Jew? We have been following Gibson’s every move since he released that movie. The other night, when our uniformed brother spotted him bobbing and weaving in his star car, we saw an opportunity and we took it. Don’t blame us — it’s what Yahweh would do. When Officer Mee busted him, we all busted him.”
Oliver Stone is throwing together a third, extra-lengthy DVD of Alexander — 225 minutes, give or take — and Warner Home Video will put it out whenever….later this year, early ’07. Rope Of Silicon’s Laremy Legel posted this story about it 11 days ago, but I wasn’t paying attention. “”I’m doing a third version [of Alexander on DVD, not theatrical], Stone told Legel during a World Trade Center interview. “I’m going to do a Cecil B. DeMille/Oliver Stone three hour, forty-five minute thing. I’m going to go all out [and] put everything I like in the movie. He was a complicated man, it was a complicated story and it doesn’t hurt to make it longer and let people who loved the film and see it more and understand it more, I love working on it because I love the movie. I hope to have it done in two months, a month and a half and then it’s up to Warner. It will be a catalogue item. I don’t think they’ll go out and make a big thing of it.”
So what’s being “conveyed” here with this new Flags of our Fathers one-sheet? Class, of course — Clint Eastwood’s film (Dreamamount, 10.20) is going to reek of the stuff. And a tone of gloom, as signified by the raising of the flag atop Mt. Surabachi, which originally took place at midday, at either at dawn or sunset, or maybe just before a thunderstorm. Handsomer and cooler-looking this way….more of a mythical quality. Other thoughts?
For those who don’t feel like reading to the end of the “Balloon Dismissals” piece I just put up, my revised Best Picture of 2006 list in order of probable (i.e., perceived) Oscar strength is as follows: (1) Flags of Our Fathers (DreamWorks); (2) Babel (Paramount Vantage); (3) Dreamgirls (DreamWorks/Paramount); (4) The Pursuit of Happyness (Columbia Pictures); (5) World Trade Center (Paramount); (6) Stranger Than Fiction (Columbia); (7) The Good Shepherd (Universal Pictures) and (8) Blood Diamond (Warner Bros.).
Plus (9) The Fountain (Warner Bros.); (10) Little Miss Sunshine (Fox Searchlight); (11) United 93 (Universal); (12) Infamous (Warner Independent); (13) Reign O’er Me (Columbia); (14) Red Sun, Black Sand (DreamWorks); (15) Fur (Picturehouse); (16) The Holiday (Columbia); (15) Little Children (New Line); (17) The Good German (Steven Soderbergh); (18) Notes On a Scandal (Fox Searchlight ) and (19) maybe Stephen Frears’ The Queen (Miramax).
Four weeks from the Toronto Film Festival and the start of early Oscar season, and it’s becoming clear that certain films I put into the presumptive Oscar Balloon way back when have to be eliminated. I’m sorry but life is necessarily Darwinian at times, and handicappers like myself are merely agents of that process.
On top of which David Poland began running his Gurus of Gold chart today, and this goaded me into action. Poland is saying he didn’t invite me to participate this year because I resigned from last year’s Guru gang at the end of the Oscar road, sometime in late January or early February. And he’s right. I did quit. It became boring and tedious filling out those damn charts every week, and I finally couldn’t stand it. Of course, Poland is also playing his little chickenshit game by excluding me.
Jude Law in Anthony Minghella’s Breaking and Entering
This is solely about Best Picture dismissals. Everything flows from this category, as a film not in contention for Best Picture (i.e., or one considered to be at least potentially in that game) rarely supplies serious contenders sparring in other categories, although exceptions do crop up from time to time. Of course, I could turn out to be dead wrong about one of these kills down the road, which means I may do a 180 and put a title back in.
Perhaps some of these films shouldn’t have been in the Balloon in the first place, granted, but I have to work with a starting template of some kind and felt it was bettter to be generous to a fault than not. The idea here isn’t to piss on these movies. I’m just saying that as good as they may be, they’re starting to like they Might Not Be Giants in an Oscar Derby sense.
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Best Picture Kills:
(1) The Departed (Warner Brothers / dir: Martin Scorsese). Reason: Any film that isn’t going to the Toronto Film Festival by the call of the distributor almost certainly has issues of some kind, so barring a miracle hard-luck Marty is once again out of the derby. (Poor guy can’t seem to catch a break in this regard.) This isn’t to say it won’t be a commendable, enjoyable or successful film otherwise. Cast: Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Vera Farmiga.
(2) Breaking and Entering (The Weinstein Co./dir: Anthony Minghella). Reason: A contemporary London drama that automatically deserves a serious looksee because of the Minghella factor. But I started feeling uncertain two or three months ago when I began hearing…well, better not to pass it along. B & E may well be intriguing and recommendable for any number of reasons, but at this juncture it doesn’t sound, look, or feel like Best Picture material. I may be wrong but that’s how it smells right now. Cast: Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, Robin Wright-Penn, Ray Winstone, Martin Freeman, Vera Farmiga.
Joseph Cross, Annette Bening in Ryan Murphy’s Running With Scissors
All The King’s Men (Columbia Pictures/dir: Steven Zallian): Reason : Something’s wrong with this film. I can feel it. Sean Penn’s hoarse screaming of those campaign speeches with that actorish down-home cracker accent he’s using is deeply unappealing in the trailer. He’s a great actor but I’m not looking forward to sitting through this performance…I’m really not. If this period drama had any kind of Best Picture fortitude, somebody would have seen it by now and begun talking it up. It opens on 9.22 and I haven’t heard any distant jungle drums heralding its arrival. Cast: Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo.
(4) A Good Year (20th Century Fox/dir: Ridley Scott): Reason: The more I read about it and look at the trailer, the more appealing it seems. I would love it if a quality-of-life film such as this turned out to be derby material, but the more I meditate upon the mood of the trailer and the somewhat predictable story arc (i.e., financial kingpin grows a soul, learns to savor life’s organic/pastoral pleasures), the more my gut tells me it’s probably a case of Ridley Lite. Nothing wrong with that — I’m looking forward, I can’t wait, and I’ll always love Crowe — but it’s not looking like a heavyweight deal. And so what? This could a laid-back winner of another stripe. Cast: Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Abbie Cornish, Marion Cotillard, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Didier Bourdon.
(5) Running With Scissors (Columbia/dir: Ryan Murphy) Reason: The word is actually pretty good on this one. Sassy, funny, oddball coming-of-age, life-lesson stuff. I’m just picking up signals that it lacks the water-table gravitas and emotional current to be in the Best Picture race. Said to be fine and worth seeing on its own terms, though. I was pitched about inteviewing Ryan Murphy (and I’d like very much to salute any ex-Entertainment Weekly writer who’s gone on to greater things) but after saying I wanted to see Scissors as a pre-condition…well, I’d still like to see it. Cast: Annette Bening, Joseph Cross, Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Rachel Wood, Alec Baldwin, Jill Clayburgh.
(6) The Prestige (Touchstone/dir: Chris Nolan) Reason: A turn-of-the-century dramatic thriller about competing magicians shouldn’t have been listed among my Best Picture hopefuls in the first place. It’s just that Nolan is such a first-rate director — one of the very best working today — and I keep thinking one day he’s going to hit it out of the park. Not this time, though. The buzz is excellent but the trailer tells me it’s primarily a genre film meant to satisfy the plebes (and I include myself in that category). Cast: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Andy Serkis, Piper Perabo, David Bowie.
Drew Barrymore, Eric Bana in Curtis Hanson’s Lucky You
Children of Men (Universal/dir: Alfonso Cuaron) Reason: An obviously thoughtful doomsday drama that looks superb and whip-smart and technically top-of-the-line. (A director friend who’s seen it says the compositions and long shots are Kubrick-like.) But any movie previewed at Comic-Con featuring Michael Caine in hippie hair and being called a “thriller” on www.comingsoon.net is most likely not Best Picture material. That sounds like a big lunge but you know what I mean. Educated filmgoers, cineastes, cultists and geeks will probably be delighted, but the futuristic plot places it in the basket of political-polemical films that never seem to end up in the Best Picture derby. Cast: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Charlie Hunnam, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor.
(8) Zodiac (Paramount/dir: David Fincher). Reason: A dark, gritty procedural about an actual hunt for a real-life San Francisco-area serial killer that began 37 years ago is, again, a film that may well have grand distinctions and fantastic chops, but it’s almost certainly not Best Picture material because of the lack of an emotional current of any recognizable kind, much less a cathartic emotional crescendo, in the script that I read a few months ago. Plus it’s hard to figure if Paramount is going to release it platform-style in late December to qualify it, or whether they’re just going to open it on 1.17.07 with no platform. Cast : Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey, Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Ezra Buzzington.
(9) For Your Consideration (Warner Independent/dir: Christopher Guest). Reason: May well be clever, funny, sharply satirical, etc., but not remotely made of the stuff that gets you into the derby. Chris Guest operates on his own sub-atomic plane. Cast: Carrie Aizley, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley, Jr., Jennifer Coolidge, Paul Dooley, Ricky Gervais, Christopher Guest, Rachael Harris, John Michael Higgins, Michael Hitchcock, Don Lake, Eugene Levy, Jane Lynch, Michael McKean, Larry Miller, Christopher Moynihan, Catherine O’Hara, Jim Piddock, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard.
(10) Hollywoodland (Focus Features/dir: Alan Coulter). Reason: An atmospheric, above-average Hollywood noir with a steady hand and fine performances. But it’s more of an early-fall than a late-fall film, if you catch my drift. And it’s certainly not a year-end one. Which isn’t to put it down. I’m just trying to weigh its merits in the proper context. Cast: Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Diane Lane.
Gael Garcia Bernal (r.) in Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep
Lucky You (Warner Bros./dir: Curtis Hanson). Reason: Gambling movie, not going to Toronto Film Festival, the curse of Eric Bana, etc. I finally saw the trailer on the big screen last night, and it doesn’t look half bad. Hanson is a first-rate filmmaker, as everyone should know by now, and his having worked with Eric Roth on the script is some kind of quality guarantee. But unlike Hanson’s excellent, under-appreciated In Her Shoes , this one doesn’t feel Best Picture-ish. (Note: Lucky You has changed its release date from 9.8 to 10.27.) Cast: Bansa, Drew Barrymore, Robert Duvall.
(12) The Painted Veil (Warner Independent/dir: John Curran) Reason: Looks to be an exotic, high-toned period drama, set in the 1920s, about a married London woman’s journey of self discovery by way of an adulterous affair and dealing with cholera-afflicted Chinese natives. Whatever aesthetic pleasures it may ultimately yield, one can sense immediately by way of its 9.15 release date that it’s probably not derby material. Cast: Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber.
(13) The Science of Sleep (Warner Independent/dir: Michel Gondry). Reason: I still haven’t seen it, but it’s been at festivals and hasn’t generated anything that sounds like derby-entry buzz to me. Trippy and imaginative, I hear, and a likely smart-audience favorite. Cast : Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alain Chabat, Jean-Michel Bernard, Emma de Caunes, Inigo Lezzi, Stephane Metzger, Miou-Miou.
Best Picture Add-On:
Blood Diamond (Warner Bros./dir: Edward Zwick). Reason: It’s a Zwick film about moral growth in a wartime atmosphere, and it’s opening on 12.15 with Warner Bros. behind it — that in itself tells you it’s in the game. Set in 1990s Sierra Leone, it’s about a South African mercenary (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a fisherman (Djimon Hounsou) whose fates become interwined “in a common quest to recover a rare pink diamond that can transform their lives.” That last part sounds like horseshit but Zwick always tries hard and Diamond is looking pretty assertive at this stage. Cast: DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Hounsou, Michael Sheen, Stephen Collins.
Naomi Watts in John Curran’s The Painted Veil
Little Miss Sunshine (Fox Searchlight/dirs: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris). Reason: It sometimes takes a while for people to realize just how exquisite and emotionally on-target a film is, even if it opened at Sundance and feels indie-ish. Cast: Gregg Kinear, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Abigail Breslin.
Best Picture Keepers in order of probable (i.e., perceived) Oscar strength:
Flags of Our Fathers (DreamWorks); Babel (Paramount); Dreamgirls (DreamWorks/Paramount); The Pursuit of Happyness (Columbia Pictures); World Trade Center (Paramount); Stranger Than Fiction (Columbia); The Good Shepherd (Universal Pictures) and Blood Diamond (Warner Bros.)
Plus The Fountain (Warner Bros.); Litttle Miss Sunshine (Fox Searchlight); United 93 (Universal); Infamous (Warner Independent); Reign O’er Me (Columbia); Red Sun, Black Sand (DreamWorks); Fur (Picturehouse); The Holiday (Columbia); Little Children (New Line); The Good German (Steven Soderbergh); Notes On a Scandal (Fox Searchlight ) and maybe Stephen Frears’ The Queen (Miramax).
The Oscar Balloon adjutments are done.